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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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V. Life in the Field of Encounter: “Openness to the World” 153


C H A P T E R F I V E Life in the Field of Encounter: “Openness to the World” Perhaps only those who have once been partially blinded by the Truth—whether suddenly or gradually—come to the breath-taking realization that the One who sits at table and breaks bread and drinks wine with us is the One through whom and for whom all ten billion light years of creation, including our own come-lately, here-and-now existence, have their being. To sit at table with Him is more wonderful and terrible than a blinding light since it allows us no fictional existence in which to shroud ourselves, no place to hide from the relentlessly gracious claim that our very existence, fractured and fictionalized as it is, is of infinite worth, potentially a bearer of the very Truth which we fear could so easily crush us under the weight of its glory. —James E. Loder In the preceding chapters I have introduced Loder’s convictional theology, which I have characterized as a relational phenomenological pneumatology, the first two components of which I have already examined at some length. My primary interest in Loder’s work is rooted in the belief that his theology contains rich and principally unrecognized resources for providing a new and much needed framework for the Christian life. A secondary interest is my belief that his convictional theology also has enormous potential for revitalizing an ailing church, especially in Europe and North America. This order is important. I am...

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