What follows is what is known as a credo statement, and was submitted by me earlier this month to Ashland Theological Seminary in pursuit of my M.Div. degree. Admittedly this is an academic work, and as such, may not be the kind of thing my readers are accustomed to seeing here. But since it was something I wrote and because it is important to those who may wish to accompany me on this new Church Requel journey, I am publishing it. My professor was most affirming. I didn't tell him, but I will share with you... I wrote most of it in the back seat of Roc's car on the way to Chicago a few weeks ago. I welcome your thoughts and discussion.
Pneumatology is the branch of Christian theology concerned with the Holy Spirit.1 How should one understand the person of the Holy Spirit? Further, what is the work that is accomplished by the Spirit? This is a subject worthy of study. The English Standard Version of the New Testament mentions “Spirit” or “spirit” 378 times,2 the vast majority of which referring to the third person of the Trinity. The purpose of this credo paper is to describe this student’s understanding of the person and the work of the Holy Spirit.
While the word Trinity is not found in Scripture, orthodox Christianity has long affirmed the doctrine of the Trinity as three unique persons existing in one God: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. There are several places in the Bible where one reads of all three persons of the divinity existing together, including the baptism of Jesus (Matthew 3:16-17), the great commission (Matthew 28:19), teaching on unity (Eph. 4:4-6) and in several epistolary doxologies (2 Cor. 13:14; 1 Peter 1:2; and Jude 1:20-21).
The study of the Holy Spirit is no less important than the concentrated thought given to the Father and the Son, and for the Christ-follower desiring connection to the Godhead, perhaps even more important. Some may consider the Father as unreachable and transcendent. Some may consider the Son as unreachable in history. “But the Holy Spirit is active within the lives of believers; he is resident within us. He is the particular person of the Trinity through whom the entire Triune Godhead currently works in us.”3
The Holy Spirit is described as being sent by the Son but also proceeding from the Father (John 15:26) and also given by the Father by request of the Son (John 14:16). However, it would be incorrect to think of the Spirit as not existing eternally (Heb. 9:14). One reads of the Spirit of God hovering over the face of the waters before the creation story (Gen. 1:2). Further, Paul describes the Spirit as the One from whom a believer will “reap eternal life” (Gal. 6:8 ESV). Logically the Spirit could not grant eternal life without also possessing such a characteristic.
It is difficult to think of the Holy Spirit without thinking in terms of what the Spirit does. Stanley Grenz has described the third person of the Trinity as “the Spirit of love between the Father and the Son.”4 This student has found a helpful understanding of this “doing” aspect of the third person of the Trinity from the bestselling The Shack’s Sarayu’s5 self-description: “I am alive, dynamic, ever active, and moving. I am a being verb.”6 Where does this idea of the Spirit come from? This exegete suggests three Biblical sources: (1) Jesus’ reference to the Spirit as “pneuma,” (2) the English translations of the Johannine Spirit passages, and (3) the Pauline epistolary descriptions of the Spirit.
First, when Jesus describes the concept of the new spiritual birth to Nicodemus, he uses one base word - pneuma - which has the dual meaning of “wind” and “spirit” (John 3:5-8). Like the wind that blows where it will, the Holy Spirit is also active and moving. Without knowing the source of where the Spirit has come from, one can recognize the evidence of the presence of the Spirit. As a person would talk about the wind by seeing windy effects, such as a wind-blown tree, one can speak of the movement of the Spirit.
A second way of understanding the doing, verbal aspects of the Holy Spirit is to examine the multiple English translations of the Johannine usage of the Greek word, “Paraclete,” from John 14:16 and 26, 15:26, 16:1, and 1 John 2:1. The Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament defines παράκλητος as “a verbal adjective with a basic meaning one called alongside to help; as a legal technical term, as one who appears in another’s behalf.”7 Consequently modern English translations choose multiple (and verbally descriptive) words as names for the Holy Spirit, such as Helper (ESV, GNT, NASB95, NCV), Advocate (NET, NLT, NRSV), Counselor (NIV, RSV), Comforter (NKJV), and Friend (The Message). The modern English reader could be left with the impression that one cannot exactly best name the Holy Spirit, but whatever name one uses must be in terms of what the Spirit does.
Finally, one can understand the role of the Holy Spirit in terms described by the Apostle Paul. Unlike the Old Testament concept of the Spirit as experienced by only a few, the Pauline letters talk about each Christ-follower possessing the Spirit (Romans 8:9, 1 Cor. 12: 7,11). Further the Holy Spirit is the One who brings unity to all Christians in the church (1 Cor. 12:13, Eph. 4:3). Finally, it is the Spirit who grants each believer spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12:4-11) and it is by the Spirit that believers exhibit godly characteristics known as the fruits of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22).
The Holy Spirit is a unique and individual person of God. He8 expresses personality. He can be grieved (Eph. 4:30), can be vexed (Isa. 63:10), and resisted (Acts 7:51). He expresses a powerful relationship with Christ followers as comforter (Acts 9:31), teacher (John 14:26, 1 Cor. 12:3), and guide (John 16:13). While the Holy Spirit has a power of His own (Rom. 15:13), He is known as the Spirit of Christ because He testifies of Christ (John 15:26) and glorifies Christ (John 16:14) in all He does.
Since the Reformation another question has arisen regarding the role the Holy Spirit plays in a Christ-follower’s life both at the time of and after conversion. For much of history and for many of those claiming the Christian faith today, the assumption was made that one receives the Holy Spirit at the time of conversion, that as Paul writes to the church at Corinth, we all have been baptized into one Spirit (1 Cor. 12:13). The Holy Spirit provides the ability for one to grow in his or her faith, a process known as Sanctification. However, others have believed - especially since the rise of Pentecostalism in 1901, that one must receive a second work of grace, a fresh baptism or anointing of the Holy Spirit in order to receive both the gifts and power to live out the Christian life. Boyd and Eddy posit the four main positions within this Sanctification Debate:9
- Sanctification as a Declaration by God (The Lutheran View).
- Sanctification as Holiness in Christ and in Personal Conduct (The Reformed [Calvinist] View).
- Sanctification as Resting Faith in the Sufficiency of Christ (Keswick “Deeper Life" View).
- Entire Sanctification as Perfect Love (The Wesleyan View).
It is this student’s belief that the disciples at Pentecost (as well as others who encountered a Pentecost-like Holy Spirit experience in the Book of Acts) “received this remarkable new empowering from the Holy Spirit because they were living at the time of transition between the old covenant work of the Holy Spirit and the new covenant work of the Holy Spirit.”10 With an open mind, this student sought a second-work experience, but now after 30 years in the faith, concludes an initial work of the Spirit at conversion with continual growth afterward. Within Eddy and Boyd’s four positions, this writer would most identify with the Reformed position.
Because this is an academic exercise it would be easy to conclude the topic of the Holy Spirit and never leave the field of definitions, descriptions, and Biblical references. However the primary way that Christ followers throughout the centuries have known about the Holy Spirit is to have known the Holy Spirit. After all, the book of Acts is filled with the many stories of what happens to people when they come into relationship with the Spirit. So to speak of the person and work of the Spirit without at the same time speaking of the experience of the Spirit would be to leave the impression of a dry and pedagogical understanding, exactly the opposite of the living, abiding, and vital reality of God’s Spirit.
This student has experienced this vital Reality. Without the Presence, this Christ follower would not know of his own salvation or be able to minister in God’s power. Just as one breathes in oxygen for ongoing life, this writer affirms the daily intake of spiritual life made possible by God’s grace and love, known and expressed through the Holy Spirit. This experience has been an ongoing and growing experience, changing and developing each and every day. Indeed for this believer, to know God and to know Christ, has been to know the Spirit.
1 New Oxford American Dictionary, 2nd Edition, Oxford University Press, Inc., Kindle Edition, 2008.
2 Documented by use of Logos and Libronix Digital Library System 1.2.2 (203), 2009.
3 Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998), 862-863.
4 Stanley J. Grenz, Theology for the Community of God (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), Kindle Edition Location 6026-27.
5 Sarayu is the name given to the Holy Spirit character in The Shack.
6 William P. Young, The Shack (Newbury Park: Windblown Media, 2007), Kindle Edition Location 3259.
7 Timothy Friberg, Barbara Friberg and Neva F. Miller, Vol. 4, Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament. Baker's Greek New Testament library Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 2000.
8 While the pronoun “He” is used here, it should not be inferred that the Spirit possesses a male sexuality. However, it would be incorrect to use the pronoun “It” because the Spirit is not an object, but a person.
9 Gregory A. Boyd and Paul R. Eddy, Across the SPECTRUM: Understanding Issues in Evangelical Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), Kindle Edition Location
10 Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity, Zondervan, 1994), Kindle Edition Location 19677. (Italics were in the original quote.)