Rogers provocatively beings his book with a section entitled, “Barth Fumbles.” Like many critics, Rogers highlights the fact that Barth’s doctrine of the Spirit collapses into Christology. As Robert Jenson ponders about Barth’s pneumatology, “you wonder where the spirit went,” Rogers asks “is there nothing the Spirit can do that the Son can’t do better?”

According to Rogers this is all symptomatic of a larger issue plaguing theologies that resist the distinct character of the Spirit; namely, it’s unique characteristic to inhabit and to deify humanity. We’re reminded by Rogers that “to think about the Spirit it will not do to think ‘spiritually’: to think about the Spirit you have to think materially” (56). Because we tend to disregard bodies, we end up ‘spiritualizing’ the Holy Spirit. The Spirit then becomes superfluous and in its stead Christology – “theology’s gold standard” – comes to rest if not overshadow the Holy Spirit’s role.

The diagnosis, as Rogers sees it, is a budding binitarianism or at the very least, an inability to really discuss what it is the Holy Spirit does or is for. Such a view of the Spirit makes it difficult to make sense of history (30-2) and time, in an Irenaean sense (183). The fallout of this view is dire. As Rowan Williams asks, we’re left wondering what to do “with the actual continuing ‘construction’ of a human reality,” this being no small thing as we face questions about politics, sexuality and ethics (On Christian Theology, 118).

Overall I found Rogers’ argument convincing, especially his brief section on the Spirit and its relationship to culturally informed habits (193ff.). Particularly important to me was the way that Rogers refused to separate “event” from habit. In so many words, the debate is not between ironclad Barthians and those who follow Aquinas. Rogers raises the question:

“But does the Spirit rule eventfully, like the wind, or habitually? Karl Barth, and more recently his defender George Hunsinger, have strenuously argued the former. But it is a false contrast. A habit, after all, is not a static thing, but dynamic all the way down. It abbreviates a series of events. Either a series of events lays down a habit, or a habit retrospectively names the beginnings of a series of events. The Spirit not only blows like a hurricane but like a prevailing wind… Good habits are nothing other than the gently condescending courtesy of grace, or the robust, insistent humanity of God” (197-8).

The real issue for Rogers is the body, materiality and the deification of humanity. And to raise these issues is to inevitably pose questions about “the actually continuing ‘construction’ of a human reality” (Williams), especially so in terms of liturgy. Of course there will be those who fear that habits or practices will come to build walls around the Kingdom and thereby foreclose upon Christ’s inbreaking character. However, I think Rogers take on Spirit-infused-habits has the upper hand: “Infused virtues are settled dispositions to act, not because we have so disposed ourselves, but because God has so disposed us. In Irenaean fashion, God respects our time- and body – boundedness by working with them, habitually. Indeed, every divine intervention, if it leaves any trace at all in the human being, must leave a trace in the form of an incipient habit… If God redeems us, God habituates us” (198).

“God is never absent from his work: he did not create and leave,” writes de Lubac. Not only does this statement challenge dialectical theology (I think!), it neatly encapsulates Rogers’ wider argument. “The Spirit characteristically befriends the body,” here and now, and in so doing enjoins human person into the Trinitarian life (60, 46). To raise questions about the Holy Spirit is to raise questions about bodies and the Trinity in the same breathe. It is to say that matter matters. And although the Spirit acts upon matter, it is not reduced to matter. And for the Spirit to act upon matter implies bodies implicated in communities, communal practices and cultural norms, yet the Spirit is not limited to them. “The work of the Spirit is to be sought in the practices of the community, not because the Spirit is reduced to matter or community, but because the Spirit could not be received by human beings, for whom nothing can be in the mind not first in the senses, except through matter” (216), states Rogers. We might say that materiality abides for Rogers, not in the sense of natura pura, but as graced nature – “nature as it concretely exists in the order that God created for elevation to friendship with God” (Sexuality and the Christian Body, 105).

Advertisements