What I Believe: The Holy Spirit

Pneumatology is the study of the Holy Spirit. It might also be defined, if we take on the mood of the writer of Ecclesiastes, as a chasing of the wind. However, there is much written about the Holy Spirit in Scripture to help us understand the nature and role of this third person of the Trinity. Despite all the information, we still do not seem to be given a concrete image for our minds except that of, occasionally, a dove.

The word Holy signifies that the Holy Spirit is divine. The words used in the original languages for Spirit have various meanings and always refer to something invisible. Some of these meanings are wind, life, energy or power. All of these meanings designate something outside human control or capture. In other words, the Holy Spirit goes where he will and does what he chooses as far as our wills are concerned, just as the other persons of the Trinity do. At the same time, just as the Son serves the purposes of the Father so the Holy Spirit moves to shape creation, history and people to the will of the Father and Son.

What I Believe: Original Creation

Let me begin with this. I believe the creation poem that begins the Bible was a special revelation, traditionally given to Moses, that gives a true picture of the creation of the heavens and the earth as far as it goes in describing things. In it God painted with a very broad brush as he took us from the beginning of earth as an entity to the apex of his original creation—us.

I do not have a natural affinity for poetry so I have read books to help me better understand and appreciate it. One of the books made a very good point. That was that reading poetry literally was, in most cases, going to cause problems for the reader. You know where I am going with this: the problem of the days and nights.

First, I think that framing the creation account in terms of days and nights gives us a realistic feel for the way the heavens and earth were created in stages. Each of the stages is founded on a previous one and this is the way things occurred. All of physical creation, except at the very beginning, is dependent on something else that existed before it.

Second, I think setting the poem in a seven-day week enhanced the liturgical quality of the poem. This in turn kept it in the Tabernacle and Temple services so that it would come down to us as a suitable praise of God’s original works of creation.

We have, of course, many additional testimonies to God’s creation throughout Scripture, both of his original creation and of his continuing creation.

What I Believe: More About the Trinity

Let me put in here something more about the Trinity. This is not from my own thinking but from the Nicene Creed, a fifteen-hundred year old interpretation of Scripture accepted by most churches. The Trinity functions as three distinct persons though all share the full nature of God. Here is what the creed has to say about the character and roles of the three persons.

 

“We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth of all that is, seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father. Through him all things were made.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son. With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified. He has spoken through the Prophets.”

What I Believe: Sufficiency

Even verses, even short passages, even chapters, even individual books are sufficient to bring people to faith in Jesus Christ, as was the Ethiopian. (I once met a man who said he came to faith in Jesus Christ by reading the book of Job.) I am sure some people have come to faith through less than perfect translations into indigenous languages. The inspired Word and the work of the Holy Spirit make whatever we may have of the written revelation of God sufficient for our needs.

You might ask why if a little bit of Scripture is sufficient for redemption there is so much of it in the Bible. Here I think we need to go back to the idea of Scripture being a creation of the Holy Spirit. Like physical creation the Bible has depth beyond the understanding of any single human mind and in its total richness is deeper than the collective mind of humanity is able to understand.

This is the other side of sufficiency. You may have noticed that serious Bible commentaries take up a good part of a bookshelf or even more. This is because the immense content of the Bible is sufficient to provide material for endless study for even the most diligent Bible scholar. The Scriptures are, I believe, a well of wisdom that never goes dry.

What I Believe: Inspiration

When we use the word “inspiration” we are using the English form of the verb inspiro which comes from the Latin Vulgate translation of the Bible. The form of the word might make us think that God did something to words that already existed. However, the Greek word theopneustos used in the New Testament means “God-breathed.” This should remind us of the work of the Holy Spirit in physical creation. In other words, Scripture is a creation of God and can be compared to physical creation as a mystery of God’s intentions.

The common source, the Holy Spirit, of both the Old and New Testaments is shown by the linkages between them. Jesus and the writers of the New Testament cited the Old Testament as foundational to an understanding of the new covenant that Jesus had brought into existence.

I regard “The Holy Scriptures are the only sufficient, certain, and infallible standard of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience (2 Timothy 3:15-17; Luke 16:29, 31; Ephesians 2:20).” If this is true, then inspiration is how they got that way.

Inspiration is inextricably intertwined with special revelation and providence. Let me illustrate. Paul’s letters were written to various people and groups of people at different places and times. The circumstances that prompted his writing resulted from the working of God’s providence. The teaching of Christianity, particularly when Paul used the word mystery, was him transmitting the special revelations he received from Jesus Christ. However, when Paul wrote letters he did not intend to create Scripture. That part of it is the Holy Spirit shaping Paul’s writings to Christ’s purposes.

Inspiration is the work of the Holy Spirit in the creation of each of the books. Each book has a unique history of its formation. Jeremiah received God’s special revelation and Baruch wrote it down to give us the book of Jeremiah. The Psalms are an anthology of Jewish music presumably assembled by one of the leaders of the Temple singers. Inspiration guided the selection of songs to be included—special revelation and providence provided the songs.

There are other people who contributed to the coming into existence of the books of the canon in addition to the people whose names are on the books or who are credited with their writing. These are the scribes, collators, copyists, editors, redactors, and all others who contributed to providing us the Holy Bible. These also were inspired by the Holy Spirit. “As inspired, the Scriptures were not produced by human will (2 Peter 1:21).”

I believe grace provides us with the faith we need to understand the inspired words of the Bible. For instance, as new Christians we may have found a favorite verse that had a special meaning for us at that stage of our Christian walk. Perhaps, after a long walk of faith we will find in the begats (those listings of ancient lineages) a richness that eluded us when we first encountered them in our Bible reading. I believe God energizes his Word through the faith and needs of its readers. Where there is much faith there is much finding of inspiration. Where there is no faith we get things such as courses like “The Bible As Literature.”

What I believe is that without faith no one can discover the inspiration of Scripture just as no one can know creation without faith (Hebrews 11:3). This does not excuse anyone for not seeking to find the truth of God’s word in the Bible any more than there is any exemption for people who do not seek God in creation from their responsibility to worship him.

 

American Christianity after Its Reformation

It is easier, I think, to criticize than to provide useful means of improving a given situation. It is easier to tear down than to build up, easier to find fault than to overlook minor errors. With this in mind, while my post “The Reformation of American Christianity” could be expanded into a book if I had the time and interest, I think I should present some ways American Christianity after its reformation should differ from the present version.

A friend once told me his church’s doctrines rested on a three-legged stool. One leg was Scripture, another tradition, and the last, reason. I refrained from telling him his denomination had knocked all three legs out from under the stool and in its present version rested on egos and opinions. A truly reformed (note the lower case r) American Christianity must stand on a renewed and higher view of Scripture than is presently held almost anywhere. Traditions, meaning common practices or supposedly authoritative interpretations, must be looked upon as nonessential differences. And the mind we bring to understanding Jesus Christ must contain the whole potentiality God has given us—not just reason but imagination, intuition, emotion, empathy and all the other facets of grace-fueled thinking.

It is evident that a renewed understanding of Christianity will require new theology. Theology at present is essentially philosophy. An early Christian, Lactantius (who tutored the Emperor Constantine’s children), noted that philosophers all had different opinions and spent their time arguing with each other. He thought Christians should not bother arguing with them. His advice would seem to apply to us today. Theologians of the reformed American Christianity should be mining a corrected view of Scripture to tell us ordinary Christians all that we can understand about the nature of Christ, how we can become more like him (in his human nature), and how we can come to live, think, and act in ways that glorify God.

Our reformed Christianity will have a difficult time returning to the original proclamation of Christianity “Repent of your sins and believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.” The most difficult part will be convincing contemporary people they have any sins of which to repent. Sins, both physical and mental, have been sanitized by the secular world, and by many Christians, through lowering standards of behavior (while being totally intolerant of those who are politically incorrect). The idea behind this attitude is that if some unfortunate attitude or behavior cannot be eliminated by prohibition then it can be legalized and thus made no longer a problem. This fits right in with the advocacy of social chaos and personal dysfunction so prominent in our culture.

The apostle Paul had to speak across a huge cultural divide such as we face when he preached to the Athenians in the Areopagus. Hughes Oliphant Old, in volume 1 of his series The Reading and Preaching of the Scriptures, described the situation, after the sermon Paul preached in Acts 17:22–31, in these words. “Polite apologetic has been put aside here. There was nothing diplomatic about telling the Athenians, of all people, that they were ignorant. To threaten the day of judgment was to reveal oneself as being hopelessly beyond the pale of humanism, and to affirm the resurrection was to kiss enlightenment a fond farewell.”

Unless reformed American Christianity is totally convinced of the truth of the Word of God, it will not be able to change minds that are immersed in a secularized society. The goal should be to bring people who are confused by all the godless ideas of our time to the point where they will say, as George MacDonald had a woman redeemed by the Holy Spirit say in his book The Curate’s Awakening. “I would like to be loved as an immortal woman, the child of a living God, and not as a helpless—a helpless bastard of Nature!” MacDonald back in 1876 saw the issue clearly. People could be children of God or the fatherless products of nature. He had Helen Lingard make the choice we can hope more and more people make as a result of a clear proclamation that there is a choice to be made.

It would probably not be enough to make an impact on our culture if our renewed Christianity only resulted in a spiritual unity. It would probably not be enough for us. We are, at this stage of our existence, physical creatures and we receive many benefits from being together in groups of various sizes. God knew this and so provided in the Mosaic Law for three national one-week feasts each year. These gatherings are called the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Passover), the Feast of Weeks, and the Feast of Tabernacles. Through all sorts of circumstances these feasts kept the Israelite people united in their corporate identity, even when they did not have their own nation.

We Christians do not have any instructions on how and when and where and for how long we are to be gathered. Yet we probably have a need for doing so and are actually told in the book Hebrews not to forsake doing it. Christians coming together began before the Day of Pentecost and continues to this day, not only in weekly services, but in such events as processions, retreats and on many other occasions. A renewed Christianity would find in the leading of the Holy Spirit, and as a result of the love of Christians for other Christians, ways to express their unity in events of various styles and purposes.

The message of a renewed Christianity will include the kingdom of God as a focus of loyalty. The present diverse and diffused Christianity is neither centered on Jesus or on his kingdom. Renewed churches will see their role as servants of Christians and not as their “owners.” There is enough work for renewed churches to do in proclaiming the gospel, healing damaged Christians, leading in the sharing of resources, and so forth so there will be no need for them to try to limit the unity of the Body of Christ and/or oppose allegiance to the kingdom of God.

The Protestant Reformation produced a variety of new understandings of Christianity and also continuing divisions. Nevertheless, these different ideas of what was right, working together in ways not planned by humans, lit a flame in Europe that, although it is now close to burning out, changed the lives of individuals, the shape of cultures, the destiny of nations and has now spread virtually all over the world. We can only hope that a reformed American Christianity will light in us a fire that will illuminate our darkened world.