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The Relational Theology of James E. Loder

Encounter and Conviction


Kenneth E. Kovacs

The work of practical theologian James E. Loder, Jr. (1931-2001) deserves a wider audience. For more than forty years, he developed and exercised an interdisciplinary methodology that identified patterns of correlation in the fields of psychology, educational theory, phenomenology, epistemology, and physics, producing a compelling theological vision that centers on the person and work of the Holy Spirit engaging and transforming human life. At his untimely death in November 2001, Loder was the Mary D. Synnott Professor of Philosophy of Christian Education at Princeton Theological Seminary, where he lectured primarily in the areas of human development and the philosophy of education.
This book introduces and examines, explores and untangles the complexity of Loder’s thought in order to make it more accessible to a broader audience. At the core of Loder’s work is a relational phenomenological pneumatology of inestimable value to the theologian engaged in the ongoing renewal of the church. The Christian life is preeminently relational, distinguished by a relationship with God constituted by Jesus Christ, and sustained by the Holy Spirit. Relationality, Loder claims, takes place in and through the life of the Holy Spirit who operates within a complementary relationship with the human spirit, through an analogia spiritus: a profound, transformational interrelation of the Holy Spirit and the human spirit. The Holy Spirit, intimately connected to the person and work of Christ, takes up and extends the work begun in the incarnation by enfleshing the presence of Christ, thus transforming human life. Loder is distinctive for articulating a pneumatology that incorporates ‘how’ the self participates in the relationship and the way the self, through the relationship, comes to have a full knowledge of itself, the world, and God. It is precisely the logic of this Christomorphic dynamic that has extraordinary implications for the way we attempt to fathom the depths and convey the meaning of Christian experience. Loder’s relational phenomenological pneumatology contains rich and principally unrecognized resources for providing new frameworks for the Christian life.


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I. Encounters with the Convictor 9


C H A P T E R O N E Encounters with the Convictor ‘What is a lifetime?’ and ‘Why do I live it?’ —James E. Loder This chapter will introduce and provide an overview of the interdisciplinary work of James E. Loder, Jr. We will survey his early writings, identify significant influences upon his thought, and explore the dominant themes that inform the rest of his oeuvre. Loder’s ideas offer a vision that has far-reaching implications for the way we grasp the nature of human life, particularly when that life is brought into a relationship with what Søren Kierkegaard (1813–1855) called the “Absolute Paradox,” the God-man—Jesus Christ.1 A determining force that shaped Loder’s life, both personally as a Christian and as a scholar (identities which he held together in creative tension), was his desire to come to terms with his own encounters with the God-man; specifically, two pivotal religious, or, as Loder would call them, convictional experiences that changed his life. Before theological statements are articulated in dogmatic declarations or confessional statements they are first experienced within the existential conflict, struggle, and resolution that come when an individual encounters the Holiness of God—the Convictor. Conviction Conviction, Loder explains, is an experience that involves the Convictor, the convicted person, and “the endurance through time of the convictional relationship between them.”2 In this relationship the “convicted person is compelled to reopen the question of reality in light of the presumed nature of the Convictor...

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