When congregations dream about what might happen if their feet began to move to the lively, hypnotic rhythm of God’s Spirit, they often find themselves standing against the wall of the ballroom, unsure of the place of the Spirit in communal life. Too often believers perceive a false choice between the frightening, mosh-pit chaos of “Spirit-filled” worship and the boredom with the waltz of stale religion.
Amidst such confusion Molly Marshall offers new energy to the age-old steps of the nature and work of the Spirit. Through the image of a vibrant, flowing, life-giving dance, which Christians join when they enter the life of the Spirit, she challenges innocuous and shallow conceptions of the Triune God in Joining the Dance: A Theology of the Spirit, published by Judson Press.
“The deep sigh of the church,” she identifies, “is for a renewed awareness of the work of the Spirit in our lives and in this fragile world.” Christians will find such awakening to the pervasive presence of God in this work and discover ways to more fully participate in the life of God.
Her study integrates the melodic lines of biblical witness, classic systematic formulations of the Spirit, and contemporary theological writings into a harmony that churches can understand and follow. She sits at the feet of the early church fathers as well as her students, females as well as males, thinkers and writers from all ethnic groups and backgrounds.
Marshall engages the topic of pneumatology with a yearning toward wholeness among Christians in their worship and other manifestations of communal life. To reframe the sphere and character of the Spirit, she draws on the ancient idea of perichoresis, a circulatory relationship of mutuality in which persons draw their identity from being related to others.
Marshall then beckons, “Can we expand the image so that there is room for humanity–even for the whole of creation–to join in this dance within God’s own life?”
She employs strong scriptural evidence, revealing the Spirit’s oft-neglected presence in God’s work. Her book follows the Spirit on its biblical journey, from the wind hovering over the chaotic waters to the gift of the Spirit to the church to the day when all creation will be transformed. Throughout these movements the Spirit has and continues the work of vivifying, gathering, empowering, birthing, transforming and winnowing.
Perhaps the most cogent and salient argument of Marshall’s work involves the place of the Spirit in the world. In a religious culture which increasingly decries tolerance and diversity, Marshall views the growing receptivity to pluralism as an unprecedented opportunity for dialogue about the activity of the Spirit. This recognition sets her theology of the Spirit apart from other works, affirming that “the Spirit is universally present in the world, bringing awareness of the ways of God to all persons of faith. Furthermore, the Spirit stirs hope among those who would deny having religious faith in the traditional sense.”
Pastors and other church leaders will find this book both insightful and useful. It offers an excellent resource on the biblical witness to the Spirit’s work and helps define the place of the Spirit in community life.
Most importantly, it invites the reader to join the Spirit anew in “the inviting dance that welcomes us all.”
Brent McDougal is pastor of Corinth Heights Baptist Church in Haleyville, Ala., and author of River of the Soul: A Spirituality Guide for Christian Youth.
Brent McDougal is senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Knoxville, Tennessee.