Incarnational creativity: A pneumatology of improvisation

Samuel Jospeh Laurent (
Constructive Theology, Drew University
December, 2012
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The inaugural director of the Center for Theological Engagement, Sam Laurent brings a broad grounding in theological studies and teaching, as well as a deep commitment to the communal life of the church to his work at the Center. With a combination of humor and insight, Sam employs dialogue-based pedagogy to create engaging and energizing learning environments. Sam's commitment to collaborative learning stems from his own theological research; his Ph.D. dissertation at Drew University was entitled "Incarnational Creativity: A Pneumatology of Improvisation," and explored the relationship between God's trinitarian presence in our lives and the creative engagement with the world to which the Holy Spirit calls us. Sam's areas of expertise, in addition to pneumatology, include theologies of freedom, process theology, liberation theology, postcolonialism, postmodern thought, and American pragmatist philosophy. In his teaching and discussion leadership, Sam provides an array of theological paradigms and traditions, evincing his belief that to wonder about God and to seek to understand God's presence in the world is a profoundly prayerful act.

Sam is a "cradle" Episcopalian with lifelong involvement in church programming on the parish and diocesan levels. Before his doctoral studies, Sam earned a Master of Arts in Systematic and Philosophical Theology at the Graduate Theological Union and Church Divinity School of the Pacific, and a Bachelor of Arts in English and Philosophy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Sam is a license preacher and catechist in the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina.


This dissertation explores the relationship of the Holy Spirit and human freedom through the hermeneutic lens of improvisation. Offering a constructive pneumatology which reads creation's relationship with God as an ongoing collaborative improvisation, this dissertation utilizes jazz performance as a guiding metaphor for illustrating the performative creative unfolding in which all of creation is engaged. A tensive reading of Alfred North Whitehead's process thought and Robert Cummings Neville's critique thereof leads to a robust sense of divine creativity enacted by the Spirit's collaborative movement through creation. This pneumatological creativity then frames a reading of the trinitarian works of Eugene Rogers and Kathryn Tanner, which yields an understanding of each event as an incarnational gesture, infused with divine love and energy, and received into divine memory. The Spirit's paraphysical presence graces physical processes and calls forth a diverse chorus of creative responses to God's love. This trinitarian grounding also establishes a tradition within which creaturely processes operate. Jürgen Moltmann's hope-fueled pneumatology is brought into conversation with this improvisational framework, calling forth a deep sense of Christomorphic performativity in the Spirit's procession and the attending creaturely response. Moltmann's eschatology, though, risks overriding the freedom which his pneumatology claims for all creatures, and a careful examination of each doctrine finds that an assured sense of eschatological redemption devalues present agency, and indeed may divert attention away from the consequences of creaturely actions. Beauty, then, is posited as an value toward which creaturely actions are called to strive, a step toward God's kingdom. The Spirit's presence is shown to call all of creation toward the enactment of contextual beauty, the parameters of which are laid through a reading of Whitehead, in contrast to classical notions of beauty. Improvisation then strives toward dynamic and collaborative harmony, toward a balance of order and chaos, and toward a deeply equitable availability of possibility and expression to all creatures. Improvisational pneumatology thus offers a hermeneutic for understanding God's creative presence in all events, and for orienting creaturely action toward productive and faithful participation in collaboration with God.

ISSN: 2374-4103