Pneumatological Orthodoxy

The Bible does not contain systematic thinking on any one topic and is filled with conflicting experiences and understandings of some aspect or another of God.  This is epitomized with Holy Spirit.  In my life, I hardly encountered deep, sophisticated, and vulnerable conversation around Holy Spirit.  These two factors have made Holy Spirit an elusive, mysterious being, that eludes all my attempts to define Him. This class has given me a base to begin to start thinking about Holy Spirt.  This paper covers my key theological understandings about Holy Spirit and what they mean for me in my life right now.

Holy Spirit as Person

It’s important to first think of Holy Spirit as a person.[1]  Pannenberg was essential in the shift in theology to put the Trinity at the center of a theology of God before his unity.[2]  In doing so, we are led to consider each Divine Person individually and relationally.  There is a plethora of implications that arise from focusing on the personhood of Holy Spirit, but two stick out to me.  The first is Holy Spirit’s freedom, and second is my inability to control Holy Spirit.

I believe that the freedom of the Holy Spirit to “blow where He wishes” (John 3:8), is intimately tied up in His personhood and a reason for his elusiveness.  Holy Spirit’s personhood is at the center of His freedom, which is at the center of my inability to control Him.  Holy Spirit is a person who is free to act as He wishes and can’t be manipulated to act a certain way because my theology requires it of Him.  Even in being a person, Holy Spirit is still a spirt and acts in spiritual ways.  This makes the division between Holy Spirit work and other spirit work a messy business.[3]  I hardly feel confidence to definitively say what was or was not works of Spirit and the reasons for why Spirit acted in a certain way.  Unfortunately, this skepticism has resulted in me missing out in joining in with Holy Spirit in the work He was doing in my life, and the lives around me.

Although Holy Spirit doesn’t act independently without consideration of and cooperation with the trinity[4], He also shouldn’t be thought of as only acting in the shadow of The Father or The Son.  Holy Spirit and Jesus may be so intimately connected that you cannot experience one without the other.[5]  Yet, that doesn’t mean that Holy Spirit needs to ask Christ for permission to move and is to be contained by Christ’s body on earth, His literally body and His church.  We should not take Spirit’s freedom and elusiveness as reason to think we can’t say anything positive about Spirit though.

Spirit’s personhood reminds me that my relationship with God is not just one with The Father and The Son, but equally with Holy Spirt who is more than just energy or power.  When I follow Spirit’s guide each day, I’m not following some energy or emanation from God that must act in a certain way, but I’m following a person that may act in ways that surprise me.  He may call me to do things I love, or ask me to do things I’m uncomfortable with.  Yet, in any situation I will have a genuine person to dialogue with and hear from guiding me to be a part of His mission to bring God’s kingdom to earth.

Holy Spirit in Creation

The first form of work of Holy Spirit I want to recognize is His work in creation, and not just redemption.  Holy Spirit was a part of creation since Genesis 1:2, as He hovered over the waters and was the breath that filled Adam’s nostrils in 2:7. Since the beginning, God’s Spirit was present all over the earth.[6]  It was not as if Pentecost released Spirit from heaven to now interact with the world, Spirit had been doing this from the beginning.  The indwelling of a human may not have been something that Spirit did before the Incarnation, but surely, he was operating everywhere on earth at all times.

This pushes me towards rejecting the filioque clause along with Pannenberg and Moltmann.  From the beginning, Spirit and Logos, Holy Spirt and Jesus, worked together equally in creation and glorification of God.[7]  The procession of the Spirit is from the Father on an equal level with the Son.  Holy Spirit is not be tied just to the work of the church if He was working before the church began.

The Spirit was present in creation as He is present in redemption.  If the Spirit can work without the church and is working to redeem everyone to God, this potentially opens salvation to those who haven’t professed Christ.[8]  I have many sympathies with Pinnock’s inclusivism that makes Christ the sole source of redemption but does not limit salvation to only those that explicitly recognize this.  As a youth pastor, this has allowed me to see the way God is working in people’s lives even when the church is not present.  As important and necessary as it is for people to find a church community to call home, I have been humbled to recognize that getting more kids at youth group is not the end all be all.  Giving them a chance to encounter Jesus through the Holy Spirit is what our goal should be, and sometimes this happens outside of a church setting, and it should still be celebrated.

The Giver of Live

Next, we see in Genesis 2:7 that Holy Spirit is the giver of life to the world.  Holy Spirit is the sustainer and bringer of life, directs all creation towards life, and brings life where He goes.[9]  Moltmann’s analogy of Holy Spirit as mother has transformed the way I see the Spirit as the giver of life.[10]  We are reborn through the Spirit and receive the life that is found only in Holy Spirit.  This is beautiful yet challenging for me.  It is beautiful because it gives me hope that God is always working to bring the abundant life of Christ to all those in the world.  It is challenging because it makes me wrestle with the reality of life in situations that seem disconnected from God, and the lack of life in situations that are supposed to be connected to God.

I currently work for a United Methodist Church.  Since discussions around human sexuality are particularly tense for the church right now, I have done much reflection on my own theological considerations.  I tend to lean more toward the traditional side and consider same sex sexual activity as sinful.  The difficulty is the reality that many same sex couples seem to be vibrant with life, and particularly because they are actively pursuing a same sex relationship to the fullest.  If the Spirit is the giver of life, can I really deny that the Spirit is somehow involved in providing the life they experience?  How can it be that people can experience what can only be described as experiencing life itself, specifically from engaging in something I see as sinful and thus a source of death?  I am still struggling through this, but my theological conviction that Holy Spirit is that which gives life, along with the obvious signs that same sex couples seem to experience that very same life on account of them being in that relationship is a serious challenge to the traditional understanding of human sexuality.

Holy Spirit in Redemption

The Spirit can aptly be described as Revealdness.[11]  Jesus is the face of The Father, and Holy Spirit reveals Jesus’ face to us.  He reveals to us who Jesus is and reminds us of all that Jesus taught (John 14:26).  He also reveals to us God’s will for the world as he searches the deep things of God (1 Corinthians 2:10).  As Holy Spirit brings us deeper into the revelation of Christ, He transforms us into the image of Christ.  It is Spirit that takes us through this process of sanctification.  In the east, this is understood within the framework of deification, where we are being transformed to participate in the divine union.[12]  In the Incarnation, we weren’t just saved from something but for something.  We were saved so that we may enter into communion with the triune God.

As I continue our journey with Holy Spirt, I find that Spirit is the source that empowers me to live out God’s will on earth.  It is Holy Spirit that comforts me in sadness, celebrates with me in joys, sits with me in depression and shame, convicts me of sin, helps me interpret God’s word.  Holy Spirit connects me to the triune God to communion with Him, He brings me freedom, destroys oppression, and fights for justice.  In being the giver of life in creation, Spirit is always working in the world to bring me to live in life.  Holy Spirit meets me where am at, but doesn’t leave me here.

Holy Spirit’s Indwelling

We also see in the Bible that Holy Spirit dwells within us (1 Corinthian 3:16).  This indwelling of Spirit is how he changes us into the image of Christ.  From the inside out, Holy Spirit does His work of revelation, empowerment, conviction and sanctification.  This indwelling isn’t just individually, put also corporately.[13]  As Christ’s body, Holy Spirit indwells the church as He leads the church into a deeper relationship with Christ.  This indwelling of the Spirit can be understood as a marker that someone has been saved.  Holy Spirit is our seal of salvation (Ephesians 1:13).

We looked at Holy Spirit’s pervasive presence across the earth and how this may have serious implications for rethinking the way we look at salvation.  I don’t think this pervasiveness means and indwelling of all humans though.  This special feature of living in someone, I believe is reserved for those who believe in their heart and profess with their mouth that Jesus is Lord (Romans 10:9).  In this way, it is only Christians who possess Holy Spirit and are possessed by Holy Spirit.  Spirit is most likely working in the world independently of, and outside the church.  He may be ever-present, around and among all people but not in all people, that relationship is saved for professing Christians.

Even this may be too stark of a line.  The Bible seems to contain an ambiguous description and understanding of how Spirit works in individuals and what criterion needs to be completed before His indwelling.[14]  Maybe we need to see the Spirit’s indwelling of someone as a gradation and not necessarily an all or nothing situation.  I have non-Christian friends who express feeling lead to perform some kind or generous act ways similar to how I understand Holy Spirit leading me to do something.  If Holy Spirit can act in someone’s life who doesn’t profess Christ in similar expressions to my own, what is the functionality of the indwelling of the Spirit?  Is it anything beyond a mere marker that I’m “saved”?


We have looked at key theological questions considering Holy Spirit, and in each category, I’m left with more questions than answers.  Even as we look at all the work Holy Spirit does, the Spirit still remains hidden and a mystery.  Jesus is the face of the Father, the Spirit shows us Jesus’ face, but there is no divine declaration of who reveals the Spirit.  Given that we are now God’s temple by Holy Spirit’s indwelling, in some way humanity is now the face of the Spirit.[15]  If humanity is now to be a means of revealing the face of Holy Spirit, this doesn’t necessarily give us much hope in getting a clear picture of what he looks like.  Really, it only points to the diversity and mystery of the Spirit as we wrestle with all the complexities, diversities, and conflicts amongst and between people.

[1] Pinnock, Clark H. Flame of Love: a Theology of Holy Spirit. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, an imprint of InterVarsity Press, 2016. 22

[2] Kärkkäinen Veli-Matti. Pneumatology: the Holy Spirit in Ecumenical, International, and Contextual Perspective. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2018. 122.

[3] Green, Gene L., Stephen T. Pardue, and Khiok-Khng Yeo. The Spirit over the Earth: Pneumatology in the Majority World. Carlisle, Cumbria: Langham Global Library, 2016. 23.

[4] Kärkkäinen Veli-Matti. Pneumatology. 110.

[5] Ibid. 19

[6] Green, Gene L., Stephen T. Pardue, and Khiok-Khng Yeo. The Spirit over the Earth. 27

[7] Pannenberg, Wolfhart. Systematic Theology: Volume 3. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1997. 4.

[8] Kärkkäinen Veli-Matti. Pneumatology. 132.

[9] Pinnock, Clark H. Flame of Love. 50.

[10] Moltmann Jürgen, and Margaret Kohl. The Spirit of Life a Universal Affirmation. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2001. 271

[11] Kärkkäinen Veli-Matti. Pneumatology. 120.

[12] Kärkkäinen Veli-Matti. Pneumatology. 108

[13] Congar, Yves. I Believe in the Holy Spirit. New York: Crossroad Pub. Co., 1997. 154.

[14] Kärkkäinen Veli-Matti, Amos Yong, Kirsteen Kim, Amos Yong, Kirsteen Kim, and Kärkkäinen Veli-Matti. Interdisciplinary and Religio-Cultural Discourses on a Spirit-Filled World: Loosing the Spirits. Palgrave Macmillan Ltd., 2013. 25.

[15] Pinnock, Clark H. Flame of Love. 41.

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