In this our last post on a generous orthodoxy that can genuinely shape a fourth way, I want to look at a basic premise of the younger generation and a premise that many of my generation find difficult to handle.
I begin with a story. In the Spring of 1981, Kris and I and the kids were living in Nottingham England and I was doing research for my PhD at Nottingham University. I had a desk at home, and often studied there. Late in the morning we got a phone call, I picked it up, and at the other end of the line was F.F. Bruce — who introduced himself and kindly invited all of us up to his home in Buxton the next Saturday for tea (which is more than a drink). We gladly accepted and the next Saturday we got ourselves up there (bought a Bakewell tart, too). I gave to Professor Bruce a brand new copy of Leon Morris’ book Testaments of Love, which he appreciated, and we had a splendid time (apart from Lukas spilling a glass of “orange squash” [a drink] on his rug, which he said was the norm for his home).
The reason I bring this up is that I asked Professor Bruce, because I had an audience with him, about women and ministry. My question was a big one: “Professor Bruce, what do you think of women in the ministry and how texts like 1 Cor 14 and 1 Tim 2 apply to the issues at hand.” Here was his response, and I shall never forget it and I sum it up here. “First, I think 1 Cor 14 is textually corrupt. Second, I think Paul would roll over in his grave if he thought we were turning his letters into a new Torah. And third, as for what I think about women in ministry, I’m for whatever causes the freedom of the Spirit.” What struck me most were answers 2 and 3.
In his words we find a paradigm for a new work of God in our midst.
If we are going anywhere in our day, it must be empowered by the Holy Spirit. Our creeds have always confessed the Holy Spirit — as God, as the giver of life, as One who proceeds from the Father [and Son], who is worshiped, and who has spoken through the prophets.
Orthodoxy believes this same Holy Spirit is here with us and can empower us still. It anchors itself in the gifts of the Holy Spirit, it generates its power from the Holy Spirit, and it knows that all its works are useless if not attended by the Holy Spirit.
One of my favorite Holy Spirit books is Michael Green, I Believe in the Holy Spirit.
But this means one big thing: we must trust the Spirit to be at work.
And we must trust the Spirit to be at work in each of us.
And that means we must listen to one another.
And trust one another to be doing what the Spirit is leading that person to do.
And that means we cannot demand conformity but let each person be led by the Spirit out of continuity with that orthodox confession we make.
This generosity is so evident in Paul’s letters. Yes, in Paul’s letters. Paul does not establish a “how to” guide for the Church, he does not establish a set of rules and regulations, he does not promulgate a new Torah, nor does he expect everybody in every place to be doing everything the same. He acknowledged in 1 Cor 8–10 the freedom of the Spirit in different places.
Paul’s motto, which is where FF Bruce got his own principle of the freedom of the Spirit, was “do what the Spirit leads you to do.” Read Galatians 5 and notice how Paul trusted the Christians who lived in the Spirit, and criticized those who didn’t trust the Spirit.
How many of us, if truth be told, really trust the power of the Spirit in the lives of others? If you are tempted to say, “But…”, I ask you to hold the thought and sit on it: see what the Bible really says.
So, in summary, a fourth way will truly get underway when Christians can genuinely trust the Spirit in others as much as they trust the Spirit in themselves.
The Spirit always brings freedom, another term for what I am meaning in the word generosity, as in generous orthodoxy.