Spirit and Salvation

A Constructive Christian Theology for the Pluralistic World, Volume 4

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Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen
  • Grand Rapids, MI: 
    Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
    , May
     516 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


This is the fourth volume of a projected five-volume set in an innovative series by Finnish Lutheran theologian and ecumenist Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen in which he constructs a Christian, systematic theology in relation to not only recent research in Christian theology, but also in relation to four “living faiths”: Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism. This volume discusses the doctrines of the Holy Spirit and salvation by drawing upon primarily the biblical tradition as well as upon the history of the church’s reflections on these doctrines up-to-and-including contemporary discussions and debates. Moreover, Kärkkäinen draws upon current natural and social-scientific research and, in particular, the comparative study of religions to weave a unique presentation for how Christian theology should be done in this contemporary, pluralistic world.

The book is divided between the doctrines of the Holy Spirit—pneumatology—and salvation—soteriology. After providing an introduction in which Kärkkäinen sets forth his distinctive interdisciplinary methodology, part 1 begins with chapter 1 in which he argues for a “plural”—as opposed to a “unitive”—pneumatology in which many global voices are brought into the discussion and construction of a holistic pneumatology. In chapter 2 Kärkkäinen discusses the Holy Spirit in the doctrine of the trinity, especially in respect to the protracted development of the deity of the Holy Spirit in the patristic era. Chapter 3 looks at how the Holy Spirit is—along with the Father and Son—the creator of creation and is, thus, present to and even in all creation, as evident in other faith traditions and the findings of current scientific research. Chapter 4 discusses an often-neglected topic: the “Powers” with topics such as structural authorities—ideologies/worldviews—and angels and demons. Chapter 5 is quite provocative as Kärkkäinen argues for the presence of the Holy Spirit in other world religions, such as Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and provides criteria for how best to discern the activity-or not-of the Holy Spirit in these religions. The first section on pneumatology concludes with chapter 6 in which Kärkkäinen argues how the Holy Spirit is active in the public life of humanity, fosters solidarity among all humans, and works towards the liberation of all from the “Powers,” be they religious, social, economic, and/or political.

Part 2 discusses soteriology, with chapter 7 arguing for a new understanding of the “order of salvation” (ordo salutis) not as an assembly line, but as an unfolding reality with many aspects. Here, Kärkkäinen contends for a holistic, communal, and cosmic trinitarian understanding of salvation. In chapter 8 Kärkkäinen delves into the traditional topics of Christian soteriology by looking into the concept of “salvation” in the Abrahamic faiths of Judaism and Islam along with the two main Asiatic faiths of Hinduism and Buddhism. Chapters 8 though 13 discuss the major doctrines of Christian soteriology beginning with election, where Kärkkäinen argues for a Spirit-centered approach to overcome the impasse of the Calvinist-Arminian debate, and then evaluates determinism, fatalism, and the freedom of the will in the four “living faiths.” Conversion, repentance, and the forgiveness of sins are discussed next with Kärkkäinen emphasizing the unconditional nature of the divine-vertical forgiveness of humans as well as the subsequent divine determination of the mutual-horizontal forgiveness between humans. Chapter 11 is quite lengthy as Kärkkäinen argues for the adoption of the “New Perspective” on justification, although still retaining the truths of the “Old Perspective,” and then provides a thorough treatment of the Finnish Lutheran School’s view on Martin Luther’s doctrine of union with God as grounds for the adoption of divinization (theosis) into Protestant soteriology. The chapter concludes with a discussion of the doctrines of sanctification, religious renewal, and the integrity of human life. In chapter 12 Kärkkäinen reveals his affinity for Pentecostal/Charismatic theology by arguing for the necessity of including the doctrine of psycho-somatic healing in Christian soteriology along with the doctrines of charismatic gifting and the event of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, whether concurrent with or subsequent to one’s conversion experience. Chapter 13 concludes the discussion on soteriology with Kärkkäinen arguing for the concept of reconciliation as the over-arching theme for, and goal of, the many aspects of the one reality of salvation as understood in the Christian faith. Chapter 14 is the epilogue in which Kärkkäinen argues for a wide and deep global soteriological vision from creation to consummation.

This book is an intriguing and innovative perspective on two classical Christian doctrines that affirm many of the traditional conclusions and confessions thereof, all the while moving beyond them to embrace many of the findings in natural and social-scientific research. As a seasoned ecumenical theologian, Kärkkäinen describes well the current state of theological affairs across many traditions in the Christian faith. Moreover, Kärkkäinen is ably competent to engage in interreligious dialogue with Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism to the goal of mutual understanding and appreciation without falling into a naïve pluralism that minimizes the real theological differences between these five faiths. Furthermore, Kärkkäinen describes well the various positions and arguments within Christianity, scientific research, and the four “living faiths” and how there is much potential for further dialogue. I also appreciate Kärkkäinen’s discussion of usually silenced and/or neglected theological themes such as: angelology, demonology, the “Powers,” divinization, the charismata—spiritual gifts—and the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Thus, Kärkkäinen is to be commended for constructing a generous and capacious theology of the Holy Spirit and salvation that is sure to challenge prevailing notions of these doctrines, and hopefully stimulate further critical dialogue between Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists and their respective faith traditions. The only serious criticism I have concerns the lack of evaluative criticism from Kärkkäinen relative to the four “living faiths.” Although Kärkkäinen compares and contrasts well Christian pneumatology and soteriology with these four “living faiths,” he provides precious little critical evaluation of which of the five faiths he believes represents the one-true or most-true view on these doctrines. I would have appreciated a more critically courageous stance from Kärkkäinen as a self-confessed Christian theologian.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Bradley M. Penner is adjunct professor of theology at Briercrest College and Seminary.

Date of Review: 
September 14, 2017
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen is professor of systematic theology at Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, California, and docent of ecumenics at the University of Helsinki, Finland.


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