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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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III. A Theology of Conviction: Relational Phenomenological Pneumatology 57


C H A P T E R T H R E E A Theology of Conviction: Relational Phenomenological Pneumatology Perhaps the mutual enhancement of mind and Spirit will yield up new ways of conceiving the life of God in our midst, so that the communion of saints may again—as at its Pentecostal inception—be ultimately defined by no other reality than the Spiritual Presence of God in Jesus Christ at work to restore an anguished creation to its Creator. —James Loder 1970 marks a momentous shift in Loder’s thinking, a turn from a more general philosophy of education to an examination of the Holy Spirit as educator, specifically how the Holy Spirit teaches a life in the way of Jesus Christ. As we saw at the end of the first chapter, Loder asserts, “How the Holy Spirit teaches, comforts, afflicts, and leads into ‘all truth’ [John 16:13] is largely a theological blank.”1 Beginning with the publication of The Transforming Moment, Loder responds to the challenge by attempting to fill the deficit, by constructing a theology of the Holy Spirit that is grounded in the Reformed theological tradition, yet informed by psychological insights into the dynamics of human transformation and experiences of conviction. Loder believed that theology “should be the language of conviction.”2 Stated differently, theology ought to be conceived as the language of one convicted, an articulation of life as mediated by, in, and through the Holy Spirit and for the glory of God. Instead of...

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