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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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IV. A Radicalized Spatio-Temporal World 113


C H A P T E R F O U R A Radicalized Spatio-Temporal World Probably the most painful human experience is nothingness in its many forms (loneliness, meaninglessness, death). No one overcomes this by the defensive or emergent competencies of the ego. This is because the ego is constructed on the principle that absences, although a necessary part of existence, are to be denied and inflicted on the environment through objectification and control, but, from the egoistic standpoint, if possible they are to be “managed,” not embraced and suffered through. The constructive aspects of the ego, creative in themselves, are nevertheless built on its defensive structure, and they presupposed negation throughout the ego’s valiant, prepossessing concern for survival and long- term satisfaction. —James E. Loder In this chapter, I further elucidate Loder’s convictional theology by bringing it into dialogue with a subject that is often overlooked in conjunction with his work—a theological exploration of the nature of historical existence as a relational reality. Implicit in his theology are ways for us to reconceptualize the connection between history and faith. This is a thorny and complicated topic that has afflicted the church almost from its inception, but particularly in the West since the seventeenth century. It is not my intent to get caught up in the intricacies of the faith-history debate. Instead, my aim is to examine the nature of historical consciousness, that is, how the construction of our ideas about history and even our phenomenological experience of historical...

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