From the first Tanner Group — Before the merger

Tanner vs. The Quotidian Beasts:
Kathryn Tanner (American Reform Theology), on The Holy Spirit, from“The Working of the Spirit” in Christ the Key (Ch. 7)

Kathryn Tanner’s two presented views of the Holy Spirit remain nameless, and I’m glad. Words, as I’ve come to understand them, can be seen as tools, and new ones are created to spill new functions into the world. Yet, there is a cost to such power. Sometimes naming something can be oppositely unhelpful, as when theological terms are hurled in response to trauma recognized. In these circumstances, the words feel unearned (“too soon,” to put a spin on what the young ones say).

In the case of Tanner addressing “The working of the Spirit,” however, this nameless quality in her writing is significant more so because it remains demonstratively invitational. She problematizes the first of the two views by advocating for God’s presence not just in special moments but in all manner of ordinary matters with a defiant defense of the quotidian: “…as if what happened there took place on its own, apart from God’s agency” (p. 279). For as intense as my own interpretation of Tanner can become, it is her invitation to not promote named sides for the choosing and wielding but instead enter into a more gradual recognition of the work of the Holy Spirit that exemplifies the moving power of her noncompetitive ideals.

The first view is one of the immediate, the instantaneous, and the direct, often without mediating forms. The second is one that is gradual, thoroughly human (or marked with fallible processes), and without final resolution. It is through the second, Tanner proposes, that effective criticism of religious authority can occur. A significant power dynamic is in the works for Tanner, that religious authority might be stripped not only from fanatic misinterpretation, but also be given in a deeply democratic manner to each individual regardless of “social, educational, moral, and religious fronts” (p. 288). This shift in power is about ordinary accessibility, and so does not require a technical name. It is radically ordinary in its occurance.

This effort to redistribute power (with regard to where it is placed in our religious imaginations, which bears impact) meshes well with Tanner’s ending thoughts on humanity and divinity — and where many of our group discussions around trauma and theology are likely to start or strike. In a turn away from the frame of a believer needing to lose the self in order to make room for God, Tanner advocates that a “lack of competitiveness from God’s side, indeed, is the very prerequisite of incarnation: if the divine is to be one with the human in Christ, the presence of divinity cannot entail the removal of the human” (p. 296). The way in which our humanity is not evaporated by God but fully met is, thus, a transformative celebration of the quotidian.

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