Why Christ-Centredness might be the very reason we can’t grow

This post comes is a reflection based on my reading of Gordon Fee “Getting the Spirit back into Spirituality”. If you have time, it would help set the context for my reflections here.

Christ-centred is a phrase often used, and on the surface of it, a phrase I quite contentedly identify with. But I’m increasingly wondering if the urgency with which we want to attend to the person of Christ might be turning us into unitarians.

Could we be practising unitarians who divorce ourselves from the historical trinitarianism which has been the confession of the church? Secondly, we potentially divorce ourselves from biblical basis of our picture of God as three in one, and divorce ourself from the very means of relating to God properly, namely a neglect for the person and role of Holy Spirit.

In the provocative title of this post I am taking aim, not at the theologically reflective ideas behind Christ-centred but the way that it is commonly received and reflected upon. I’m wondering why those of us who might want to gather around this title, also struggle to take hold of the radical transformation that the scriptures invite us into. By inviting us to pay attention to the role of Holy Spirit in particular, I am not advocating for us to somehow become more charismatic or pentacostal, as ironically enough, some of those traditions at their worst have boxed the Spirit into experiential and fleeting instances rather than the power and person who renews our lives from the inside to look more like Jesus.

Gordon Fee argues in “Getting the Spirit back into Spirituality” that we have been ambushed before we have even had the chance to begin our understanding of Paul’s Spirit-filled guidance by our english translations. Paul, who’s writings are the place in which we find the word translated ‘spiritual’ most often had no framework for the way in which we use this word today.

Our main understanding of the word Spiritual is unseen or immaterial which then leaves the full explanation to be something that can be filled in by the readers imagination. Fee argues the only meaningful way to understand, and indeed to accurately translate the word pneumatikos, is to say ‘of the Spirit’.

This may seem like a minor splitting of hairs in translation, but in fact, a very great deal is at stake here. Paul is insistent that the only way we can carry on in Salvation is by the Spirit.

[In regard to] “1 Corinthians 2:4…There he is arguing that the person without the Spirit doesn’t have a clue as to what God is doing through a crucified Messiah, because such “foolishness” on God’s part can only be discerned by the person who has the Spirit of God.” pp.38

Later Fee talks about the confusion arising from reading from the well known prayer in Colossians where Paul prays in Col 1:9;

“God [might] fill you with the knowledge of his will through all wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives“.

Fee says this is the only translation that has any sort of coherence to Paul’s thought. After all, what would be meaningful about ‘spiritual’ wisdom and understanding that didn’t become embodied and physical-ised?

Paul is always talking of the Spirit as the ‘Spirit of Christ’ (Rom8:9, Gal 4:6, Phil 1:19) or the Spirit of God (here referring to God the Father as He is known in later trinitarianism) – This Spirit is mediating the person presence of God and is Person Himself.

When our language of the Spirit denegrates into only ‘wind’, Holy Spirit becomes a de-personalised force, an influence or power. These understandings give us no entry way into transformation. We will look to this impersonal force to provide similarly impersonal experiences rather than being the very person of God presence-ing the power of God for our formation and becoming;

  • The Spirit searches all things (1 Cor 2:10)
  • knows the mind of God (1 Cor 2:11)
  • teaches the content of the gospel to believers (1 Cor 2:13)
  • dwells among or within believers (Rom 8:11)
  • accomplishes all things (1 Cor 12:11)
  • gives life to those who believe (1 Cor 3:6)
  • cries out from within our hearts (Gal 4:6)
  • leads us in the way of God (Rom 8:14)
  • bears witness with our own spirits (Rom 8:16)
  • has desires that are in opposition to the flesh (Gal 5:17)
  • helps us in our weaknesses (Rom 8:26)
  • intercedes on our behalf (Rom 8:26-27)
  • works all things together for our ultimate good (Rom 8:28)
  • strengthens believers (Eph 3:16)
  • is grieved by our sinfulness (Eph 4:30)
  • the fruit of the Spirit indwelling are the personal attributes of God (Gal 5:22-23)

as Fee says;

From this list, it is obvious that if the Holy Spirit is left out of our account of Christian Spirituality [discipleship], then a very great deal will have been lost. pp41-42

I think my own draw towards the language of Christ-Centredness has been the desire to look to Jesus as the defining actor in Salvation and to resist some of the complications in other streams which are rooted in tradition 1. But in order for us to engage in the reality of transformation which is offered in the scriptures, we must embrace the trinitarian nature of our salvation, and transformation.

Salvation originates [for Paul] in the Father’s redeeming love; it is in Christ, brought about by his death and resurrection; and it is realised in the life of the believer by the Holy Spirit pp.42

The very act of ‘receiving Christ’, or ‘entering the life of salvation is itself described by Paul in terms of receiving the Holy Spirit;

Roman 8:9 – If anyone does not have the Spirit, that person does not belong to Christ at all.

Paul intends that we enter into the life and salvation and live it by the Spirit, in fact anything less descends rather quickly into pharisaical moralism (I can attest to this reality personally).

Fee closes by arguing that our over-emphasis on Christ, we miss Jesus. Let me unpack this a little;

In Christ we are considering the divine, the messiah, the pre-incarnate word and this picture of the glorified and post-ascension Jesus can be read back into the life of Jesus in a way that completely short-cuts our ability to take Jesus as a model for Spiritual formation/discipleship seriously.

We fall into the trap of thinking that everytime Jesus needed to do something extraordinary he had to reach back into his wallet for the divine credit card and do something super-human. The scriptures do not lead us to understand that Jesus called on his divine nature to pull off the spectacular and mundane acts of holiness that filled his life, He was and still is a man empowered by the Spirit of God.

In this way we too can have hope of transformation, as we look as Jesus, what he has done in his death and his life, and what Holy Spirit continues to do in uniting us In Christ to live Spirit empowered lives.

  1. Whilst conceding that christ-centredness is a movement rooted in its own tradition (if not a little less reflectively than others). 

One Comment on “Why Christ-Centredness might be the very reason we can’t grow

  1. John 16: 7-15 describes the work of the Holy Spirit
    V 13…He will not speak on His Own authority…
    v 14 “He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it you.”
    (great verses to read)

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