Holy Spirit, Wilderness Guide of Love #PENTECOST

An excerpt from an essay I wrote as my integrative faith statement at Palmer Theological Seminary. It’s written as a letter to my daughter, Isla, and uses an extended metaphor of faith as “walking through the wilderness” to describe who God is and who God call us to be.

Love is our Trailblazer, but Love is also our wilderness Guide. We know this Guide as the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit guided Jesus throughout his entire life in the way of Love and led him all the way through death and into new life. When Jesus left the wilderness, he said the Guide would come to invite all people to become like Jesus as they follow the way of Jesus as a caravan of Love.

Just like Jesus, the wilderness Guide is God. But unlike Jesus, the Guide was not born as a human being. The Guide is unseen. She is like our breath – we have no life apart from her. She walks within our caravan to give us power to love ourselves and others the way Jesus does. She brings us together in friendship with people who are different from us. She comforts and encourages our caravan when the trail gets tough. The Guide gives us special gifts to keep our caravan strong. She leads us back to the way of Love when we walk in sin. In fact, She’s always leading us, but we need to practice the spiritual disciplines so that we can hear her voice more clearly.

But the Spirit of Love is also working in the wilderness beyond our caravan. She gives life to the entire wilderness and protects the wilderness from harm. She is present with all who are lost and alone in the wilderness trying to show them the way of Love. She gives strength to all who must journey over hard terrain and purifies the polluted air that causes us to walk in sin. As we walk with the Guide, we join in this greater work of making the wilderness a place for all people to find a home.

I’ve experienced the Guide all throughout my wilderness journey. I felt her comforting, guiding presence when I was in the middle of a jungle in Bolivia. Even in the most remote part of the wilderness, the Guide was with me. I also felt the special presence of the Spirit when you were born, Isla. I was in awe as your mom gave birth to you and I still remember that first time I held you in my arms. It’s the Spirit who has given me the power to love you as your dad. I have also seen the Spirit at work healing hurt people and bringing very different people together as friends. I feel the Guide when I work in the garden or play at the park. The wilderness is alive with the Spirit of Love!


God Is Love

Yes, I’m posting a blog on Valentine’s Day entitled “God is Love.” What can I say? I’m a loser with a very bad sense of humor. If you can get past that though, this is a brief “statement of faith” that I wrote for a class recently. The assignment was just to “sit down and write about what you believe in your own voice” so… that’s what I did. It’s certainly not comprehensive and probably not thought out all that well. But, what I can say is that it has very little to do with Valentine’s Day.

God is the triune Community who is Love: who created all things for love, who is present with all things in love, and who calls and wills and moves all things towards love. This Love is not an attribute of God; it is God. God is Love because God is Trinity: the three Persons – Parent, Christ, and Spirit – who are inseparably united as one in a way that does not diminish the unique otherness of each Person. This triune Community is characterized by movements of equal, mutual, reciprocal self-giving and other-receiving among, between, and within the persons of Parent, Christ and Spirit.

Because God is Love, God is relational and desires to be in relation with another. This desire gave birth to creation. God as Parent, Christ, and Spirit is the maker and sustainer of all things past, present, and future. In creation, God envisioned and then spoke into being a community whose life together would be inspired and shaped by Love in order to be a reflection of the Creator. Just as God is many and diverse, God’s creation is many and diverse. The unique character of created things is good because there could be no relationships, and therefore no love, without it. God gave one creature in particular – the man and woman – a special purpose in this creation: keeping the community, nurturing its multifaceted, interwoven connections, and preserving the diversity of each created thing in order to preserve the image of the Creator.

Because God is Love, God creates space for God’s community-keepers to reciprocate God’s love in freedom. However, the man and the woman rejected their purpose and turned away from Love towards self-reliance as if they could live apart from Love. This act of utter rebellion wounded creation at its core. Instead of Love, there was fear; instead of relation, alienation; instead of community, desecration.

Because God is Love, the Parent, Christ, and Spirit remain present and active in, with, and for creation in spite of the rebellion of God’s community-keepers. This active being of Love within and among creation is salvation. God is the saving God who comes to creation in a form it can see, and hear, and touch. Jesus the Christ is Love born to be the true community-keeper whose life, death, and resurrection made a way for all of creation’s wounds to be healed. In Jesus, Love reigns supreme.

Because God is Love, God creates anew by the power of the Spirit. Just as Jesus was compelled by Love to heal creation’s wounded, fearful heart, the Spirit was poured out over all creation to unite all things together again in Love. The Spirit is open-handed Love who reconciles relationships broken by fear, tears down the dividing walls of alienation, and restores all created things to their place in the embrace of Love. In the Spirit, Love brings new life.

Because God is Love, I am. God loves me and empowers me to love God, myself, others, and all creation. Through Jesus Christ and the Spirit, God has invited me and empowered me to play a small part in a fellowship of community-keepers who embody and enact and reveal the healing and new life Love desires for all creation. This fellowship liberates and embraces those who are suffering from the violence of fear, alienation, and desecration and gives it life for the transformation of this violence into peace and justice. They welcome others into their body of unity-in-diversity and are sent out as witnesses to the Love they have seen, felt, and known in order to make their community more complete.

Because God is Love, there is no reason to fear. Creation has hope because God is gathering all things into Love. The perfect communion of God and creation will be made complete.

Church Renewal & Evangelism: Proclaiming Peace

As I consider the relationship between church renewal and evangelism, the words of the apostle Paul in Ephesians come to mind: “[Christ Jesus] proclaimed peace to those who were far off and peace to those who were near.”1

In the Ephesian context, those who were “far off” were the Gentiles; the “aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.”2 The world today is full of “Gentile” people who are estranged from God, God’s story, and God’s people.

For Paul, those who were “near” were the Jews; the chosen, covenanted children of Abraham. Many of the Jews did not listen to the testimony of Paul concerning the saving work of God in Christ Jesus, but some, along with many Gentiles, heard this testimony and believed. The communities they formed became the foundation for the vast, diverse network of communities and institutions known today as the church.

By the Spirit’s power, Christ Jesus still comes today and announces peace to all people in all times and in all places. This universal work of peace provides a framework for understanding the relation between church renewal and evangelism: church renewal is what happens when the peace of Christ comes by the Spirit to those who are “near” and evangelism is what happens when this same peace comes by this same Spirit to those who are far off. In either case, the purpose and goal is for all people to be “built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God” in order to “gather up all things in [Christ].”3

While Paul’s words in Ephesians highlight the unity between church renewal and evangelism, they should not be used to obscure the differences between these two works of God’s saving grace. “Church” renewal implies the existence of a church: a community which has responded to God’s call to be God’s people on God’s mission for God’s world. This group of people is constituted by their corporate and individual response – a conversion – to God’s gracious presence. However, this response is not a singular event. It is an ongoing journey through history which God’s people must walk together with “fear and trembling” as God gives them power to do so.4 This power is none other than the presence of the Spirit who continually evangelizes the church as it struggles to live out its identity as God’s people for God’s world. The church is renewed by its continual conversion to the peacemaking, reconciling ways of Christ who confronts all of its idolatrous tendencies to seek its own good and ignore others.

This process of renewal is one by which God invites God’s own wayward people back into God’s mission in order to bring greater healing and wholeness to them and to the world. It must be noted that church renewal, while originating in God and coming only as a gift of God’s grace, is a set of practices which continually prepare the church to receive its renewal and enter more deeply into the reign of God. Through practices such as hospitality, Sabbath, thanksgiving, forgiveness, Eucharist, spiritual discernment, public worship, prayer, and evangelism the church makes space for the Spirit to come and bring new life.

Evangelism, on the other hand, is a practice of the church whereby God’s people help others say yes to God’s invitation and become active participants with God’s people on God’s mission for God’s world. Through evangelism, the church announces the good news of God’s reign to all people: the peace and love for which the world groans has come to life in Jesus Christ and is real today through the abiding presence of the Spirit who calls and empowers all people to restore and renew all creation.

This announcement is both verbal and embodied; the church’s life is shaped by the story it tells. In fact, the church should be a living demonstration of that story. While this announcement is universal, it must also be particular. The church does not exist in abstract but in specific times and places formed by unique histories and guided by differing values. In order to proclaim peace, the church must know its place and how that place uniquely suffers from a lack of peace. This dynamic process of becoming “all things to all people” is essential to the church’s work of evangelism.5 It is one way – a vital way – that the church fulfills its identity as God’s people who participate in God’s mission for God’s world. Without evangelism, there would be no church to renew.

1 Eph. 2:17, NRSV.

2 Eph. 2:12.

3 Eph. 2:22, 1:10.

4 Phil. 2:12-13.

5 1 Cor. 9:22.

Wendell Berry on Real Hope for Our Communities, Our Land, Our World

I dare say that if you claim to care about the health and sustainability of our environment and our local communities, you should take the time to watch this interview with Wendell Berry – even if you’re already familiar with his work. We’ll all be better off if we pay more attention to his wisdom.

BILL MOYERS: The grace of the world, take that a little further for me.

WENDELL BERRY: I meant it in the religious sense. The people of, people of religious faith know that the world is, is maintained every day by the same force that created it. It’s an article of my faith and belief, that all creatures live by breathing God’s breath and participating in his spirit. And this means that the whole thing is holy. The whole shooting match. There are no sacred and unsacred places, there are only sacred and desecrated places. So finally I see those gouges in the surface mine country as desecrations, not just as land abuse. Not just as…as human oppression. But as desecration. As blasphemy.

Welcoming Hope [Romans 15:13]

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Romans 15:13

As I meditated on this verse, one phrase kept jumping out at me: “as you trust in Him.” I thought about it a bit more and it seemed to beg the question: “for what? What is the goal, the end, the vision that Paul is wanting the church at Rome to trust in God for?”

I started thinking about the whole letter of Romans to put this verse into context. Among the many theological nuances and levels of thought weaved into this letter, Paul is, on the whole, addressing a situation of deep disunity and distrust among Jews and Gentiles trying to be God’s people in Rome. The first 9 chapters lay the theological foundation for the new community in Christ that he envisions in chapters 12-15. However, this is not just any community but the “body of Christ”:

For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.

Romans 12:4-5

This is the vision Paul has been developing when we arrive at Romans 15. In this chapter, Paul is really driving his message home loud and clear. Verses 5-7 really capture, for me, the main reason he has written this letter:

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.[Welcome] one another, then, just as Christ [welcomed] you, in order to bring praise to God.

Romans 15:5-7

So, what is Paul instructing the church at Rome to “trust in God” for? Becoming one mind and one voice, having the same attitude of Christ towards each other, knowing and experiencing God’s gracious welcome and then welcoming others in the same way. This, I think, is what Paul is asking us to trust God for: unity that is experienced in community, the specific, unique – even holy – community of the body of Christ.

So, we’re trusting God for community in Christ, but how is that related to hope? It’s interesting to me how Paul asks “the God of hope” to fill his readers with joy and peace – not with hope. Paul wants them to overflow with hope, but he doesn’t ask for hope directly. Why not? Why ask for joy and peace if he wants the church at Rome to be filled with hope?

As Christians, what is the source and ground of our hope? The simple answer, for me, is Easter: the empty tomb, the risen, resurrected, reigning King, the Lord, Jesus Christ. When Paul asks for joy and peace, I think he’s trying to remind his readers of their only real source of hope in the one who has defeated death and overcome evil. Jesus is alive and Jesus is our hope. But here’s the key: Jesus isn’t just up in heaven somewhere. Jesus is alive and well yesterday, today, and tomorrow. How? Through God’s people, “the BODY of Christ,” the community of men, women, and children that welcomes one another as Christ has welcomed them. This community is – by and only by the power of the Holy Spirit – the resurrected body of Christ!

We welcome hope when we welcome one another as Christ has welcomed us. Our hope is found in the community enlivened by the Spirit to be the hands, feet, and voice of Jesus Christ to us. Our hope is real because we know it by name, we can touch it, be hugged by it, and hear its voice.

Paul’s prayer in Romans 15:13 reminds the Romans that they need God’s joy because community is can sometimes be discouraging. It can be confusing and even upsetting, so we need God’s peace. As we trust in God for this provision, we experience the Holy Spirit’s power to “stay at the table” with each other and welcome one another even in the midst of our pain, confusion, and imperfect attempts to love one another. Then, I think, one day, we’ll be able to step back and say, “Here is my hope. In these people, in this place, as we come together and trust in God to fill us with joy and peace by the power of the Spirit; I have hope because I’ve known Jesus, I’ve felt his touch and heard his voice. He’s alive.”

Of course, this hope is experienced incompletely, inadequately and in ways we can’t plan or control. These experiences and moments of hope may be fleeting. The phrase “trial and error” comes to mind. “Community” does not “equal” hope and not just any “community” can claim to be “the body of Christ.” So, we move forward humbly always taking time to discern the Spirit – because, without the Spirit, we’re as good as dead.

Brownson on the Pneumatological Contagion of Holiness

One of the unwavering assumptions of the purity codes in the Old Testament is that holy things and holy persons become unclean and impure by contact with unholy things and unholy persons. Impurity is conceived of as contagious… [HOWEVER], in the reign of God [announced in the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ], holiness drives out impurity… Why this change in the “flow of contagion”? The New Testament writers were convinced that the Spirit of God had been poured out on the church in a dramatically new way… The powerful new gift of the Holy Spirit is the underlying reality that gives the church confidence where there was only defensiveness before. It is the Holy Spirit who reverses the flow of contagion, and who makes holiness contagious rather than making impurity contagious.

James V. Brownson, Bible, Gender, Sexuality: Reframing the Church’s Debate on Same-Sex Relationships, p190-191

…for our God is a CONSUMING FIRE

Donovan on the Nature of True Missionary Work

To approach each culture with the respect due to it as the very place wherein resides the possibility of salvation and holiness and grace. To approach the people of any culture or nation, not as individuals, but as community. To plan to stay not one day longer than is necessary in any one place. To give the people nothing, literally nothing, but the unchanging, supracultural, uninterpreted gospel before baptism. To help them expand that gospel into a creed and a way of life after baptism. To enable them to pray as Christians. To leave them the bible towards the day when they can read it and use it as a living letter in their lives. To insist that they themselves be their own future missionaries. To link them with the outside church in unity, and the outside world in charity and justice. To agree with them that baptism is indeed everything; that the reception of baptism is the acceptance of the total responsibility and the full, active sacramental power of the church, the eucharistic community with a mission. To encourage them to trust in the Spirit given at baptism, and to use the powers and gifts and charisms given to the community by the Spirit. And then the final step. The final missionary step as regards the people of any nation or culture, and the most important lesson we will ever teach them – is to leave them.

Vincent Donovan, Christianity Rediscovered

Engaging Amos Yong’s Foundational Pneumatology and Theology of Discernment from Latino Pentecostal Perspectives


As the twenty-first century unfolds, Amos Yong, a highly-regarded theologian writing from a Pentecostal, Asian-American context, sees an array of challenges facing the task of theology: modern science, religious plurality, and the crumbling of modernity along with its various epistemological structures.[1] However, he remains hopeful about these challenges because he is convinced that the Holy Spirit of God is still present and active throughout all creation. In his work on a foundational pneumatology, Yong establishes a theological, metaphysical basis for this hope by articulating “who the Holy Spirit is relative to the world as a whole and what the Spirit is doing in the world.”[2] This kind of pneumatology, according to Yong, “requires a theology of discernment in its widest and most robust sense” in order to distinguish the Holy Spirit from the diversity of spirits who are also present and active in the world.[3] In this paper, I explore Yong’s foundational pneumatology along with his theology of discernment from the perspective of a Euro-American male who is a member of a charismatic evangelical church in Ardmore, PA.[4] I have chosen to engage Yong on this topic because I am discouraged by how evangelical churches in the United States tend to domesticate and limit the person and work of the Holy Spirit within the confines of the church and private, individualized spirituality. For this reason, I was excited to read how Yong’s foundational pneumatology suggests that “divinity is present and active not only in the world that Christians inhabit, but also on the cosmic or universal level.”[5]

After presenting Yong’s foundational pneumatology along with his theology of discernment, I will explore two important aspects of his work through the voices of two other Pentecostal theologians – Samuel Soliván and Eldin Villafañe. I endeavor first to show how Yong’s foundational pneumatology is at risk of depersonalizing the Spirit, while suggesting a way he can maintain the Spirit’s personhood within his pneumatological framework. Second, I explore the relationship between christology and pneumatology in Yong’s theology of discernment and conclude that he successfully holds the Spirit and Christ together in mutual relation.

Amos Yong is the Dean and J. Rodman Williams Professor of Theology at Regent University’s School of Divinity as well as a licensed Assemblies of God minister.[6] He was born in Malaysia to Chinese parents who served there as Assemblies of God ministers after converting to Christianity from Theravadan Buddhism.[7] At the age of ten, Yong immigrated to California with his parents who began pastoring a Chinese church.[8] As a scholar, Yong holds research interests in various fields including “global Pentecostalism, Pentecostalism and science, political theology, theology & disability, theology of religions and the interfaith encounter/dialogue, and Buddhist-Christian dialogue.”[9] The portion of his work I explore in this paper arises from  his work on a theology of religions, which he describes as “part of my own quest to learn about the Christian culture [my parents] handed down to me, even as I come to appreciate the truths, beauty, goodness, and values of other cultural-religious traditions.”[10]

Amos Yong’s Foundational Pneumatology

How does one construct a foundational pneumatology that accounts for the universal presence and activity of the Triune God in a way that the whole world can hear and understand? For Yong, the divine act of creation provides the best starting point because of the “perennial connection made between the Spirit and universality in the history of Christian thought,” which in recent times has led to a fresh affirmation of the Spirit’s cosmic role in creation.[11] Yong examines the act of creation from a Trinitarian perspective using a metaphor developed by the 3rd century theologian Irenaus who described the Trinitarian missions of the divine Word and Spirit as the “Two hands of the Father [sic]”.[12] Using this metaphor, Yong argues that “every determination of being exhibits the presence and activity of the divine being: Father [sic] creating something through the [Word] by the Spirit.”[13] Yong’s description coincides with Heinz-Josef Fabry’s analysis of the Genesis 1 creation account in which the ruah elohim – “the vitalizing spirit of Yahweh” – “drives back the waters of chaos” and creates space for the creative word to be actualized.[14] In this way, the Spirit is the “field of force” in which every “determination of being is what it is by virtue of the presence and activity of the Logos within the force fields set in motion by the Spirit, the supreme field of force.” [15] Therefore, all created things exist in outer “concrete forms” that can be experienced and manipulated by virtue of the divine Word, while each thing is simultaneously constituted by an inner “energetic force that shapes its processive actuality and directs its temporal trajectory” – by virtue of the divine Spirit.[16] This creation account allows Yong to describe the presence and activity of the Triune God in creation using pneumatological categories which are distinct from – yet inextricably related to – the Word.

With this Trinitarian groundwork in place, Yong proceeds to lay out his foundational pneumatology using three intentionally vague categories of general religious experience: divine presence, divine activity, and divine absence. He builds on Donald Gelpi’s statement that “present experience of the reality of the Christian God begins… in a conscious encounter with the Holy Breath”[17] by claiming that “all experience… [is] essentially of the Spirit.”[18] Yong then develops the category of divine presence as “our experience of relationality, and through this, of God, [as] mediated by the presence of the divine Spirit.”[19] He agrees with Ralph Del Colle who describes how “the more we discover our relation to other humans, to the non-human creation, and recognize the interconnectedness of all things, we experience the One who transcends all things and yet is in all things as the source of their dynamic interrelation.”[20] By virtue of being created by God through Word and Spirit, all things contain particular qualities and norms which must be recognized and honored for their created goodness if true relationality is to be experienced. With this category, Yong discloses how the divine Spirit of the Triune God whose being is communion can be universally present in all peoples, cultures, and places to the degree in which the community of creation is authentically experienced as unity-in-diversity and diversity-in-unity.

However, this relational experience of divine presence is never static because the Spirit is a dynamic field of force. Yong’s category of divine activity describes the “force fields of faith, hope, and love” created by the Spirit which “enable human beings to move from estranged, wounded, broken, and destructive relationships into reconciling, edifying, healing, and saving ones.”[21] Therefore, the universal activity of the Spirit is “to integrate a thing into its environment in a way such that it can be authentic to itself and of service in its relationships with others.”[22] The norms for judging this divine activity are derived from the created purpose of each thing so that “the question is whether a greater degree of aesthetic harmony is possible for a thing measured against its ideal norms.”[23] When the “harmonies of things are heightened and intensified in their interrelatedness,” Yong sees the divine activity of the Spirit.[24] This category discloses the character of the Spirit’s universal action in all peoples, cultures, and places.

Having said this, Yong is quick to recognize the injustice, oppression, and alienation which mar the image of the Triune God in creation. Because the divine “presence and activity are still eschatological – not yet fully experienced but punctuated here and now by the Spirit,” creation encounters what Yong calls divine absence.[25] He accounts for the possibility of divine absence through the subjective spontaneity given by God to all human creation which provides freedom “to pervert the determinate forms of being and establish force fields of destruction” that reject their divinely created purposes.[26] When this occurs, the divine absence becomes demonic and opposes the Holy Spirit’s work and leads to “a distortion of a thing’s identity and a disruption of its network of relations.”[27] The category of divine absence identifies the presence and activity of demonic realities which create “force fields or habits of chaos, irrationality, isolation or alienation, and stagnation… [that resist] the transformative and eschatological work of the Holy Spirit” in all peoples, cultures, and places.[28]

With his pneumatological categories of divine presence, divine activity, and divine absence, Yong constructs “a framework by which to understand divinity’s relation to the diverse realms of human undertaking.”[29] This foundational pneumatology sheds considerable light on how the Triune God is present by the Spirit to both form and preserve the infinitely diverse and unique qualities of all created things while working to unite “the manyness of the world in harmony.”[30] However, it also accounts for the experience of demonic forces seeking to undermine the true identity and purpose of all forms of being and destroy the communal image of the Triune God in creation.

Amos Yong’s Theology of Discernment

In a world where the Spirit is universally present and active and engaged in varying degrees of conflict with other, demonic spirits, a robust theology of discernment is absolutely essential. In true Pentecostal form, Yong builds this theology on the Pentecost event recorded in Acts 2, which reveals that the “mission of the Spirit is never abstract but concretely and historically realized and manifest” in the diverse outward forms and inner spirits of all created things.[31] This means that discernment has to take into account the full context of a thing with all its intricacies and particularities. According to Yong, this requires nothing short of a miracle; the miracle of the Spirit at Pentecost whereby “the impossible task of understanding the other in all his or her otherness, strangeness, and difference” is made possible.[32] This Spirit-inspired understanding facilitates relationships between people separated by culture, language, and religion in a way that preserves the unique diversity of each person even while bringing them together in deep fellowship and unity.[33] This Pentecostal reality of life in the Spirit allows Yong to define discernment as a “hermeneutics of life that is both a divine gift and a human activity aimed at reading correctly the inner processes of all things,” which greatly expands upon the understanding of discernment as a “spiritual gift” given to individuals “for the specific purposes of providing insight and guidance, and for edifying the people of God.”[34]

Yong constructs this expansive theology of discernment by considering the relationship between his three pneumatological categories. The category of divine presence “marks the reality of God,” while divine absence “registers the destructive, false, evil, ugly, and profane existence of the fallen and demonic world,” which means that “the symbol of divine activity is thus dynamic and mediational, calling attention to the fact that things move continuously either to or away from their divinely instituted reason for being.”[35] Since these categories must be held together to facilitate a comprehensive praxis of discernment, Yong proposes a three-fold process that uses phenomenological-experiential, moral-ethical, and theological-soteriological criteria that correlate with each pneumatological category.[36] Because he is speaking to a Christian audience in order to construct a pneumatological theology of religions, Yong focuses his theology of discernment on the religious dimension of human experience. However, his categories are vague enough to be applied to other dimensions of experience as well.

Discernment on the phenomenological-experiential level focuses on the “qualitative presentation” of religious rituals, acts, and symbols and uses “aesthetic norms” in order to “gauge the intensity and authenticity of personal religious experiences,” with specific attention to how individuals are transformed by their experiences.[37] The importance of a religious experience as understood by its practitioners becomes the initial standard by which the Spirit’s presence is discerned.[38] This requires a “careful and intensive engagement with the phenomenon in question as it is revealed in its concreteness” so that a discerning eye can peer “through its outer forms into its inner habits, dispositions, tendencies, and powers.”[39] This leads to the moral-ethical level of discernment where the primary questions posed to religious experiences and symbols are very practical in nature: “How do they work?” and “What is accomplished by practicing with the religious symbols over time?”[40] If “lives are made whole and communal relationships are continually mended, formed, and strengthened” through the religious experience in question, Yong advises Christians to say a “tentative yet hearty ‘Amen.’”[41] He recognizes that conclusions reached via discernment are provisional because discernment is an ongoing process that must continue to trace the concrete manifestations and tangible effects of the dynamic, inner spirits operating within religious experiences.[42]

Since “spiritual transformation for the better can always be succeeded by spiritual degradation,”[43] the two previous levels of discernment must be combined with a theological-soteriological inquiry that examines the possibility of divine absence, or perhaps the demonic, by asking questions concerning the transcendental reality to which religious symbols refer.[44] Usually, though, this sort of inquiry ends in confessional statements or theological claims whose ultimate truth is indiscernible.[45] In light of this, Yong states that “the final test for discerning the Spirit of Jesus on this side of the eschaton has to reside in religious praxis.”[46] Instead of getting mired in intractable theological arguments with religious others, Yong calls Christians to lead the way in “joint expressions of liberative action… for the betterment of the human condition and for the common good.”[47]

This call to action is heightened by Yong’s awareness of demonic spirits at work in all peoples and religions, including Christianity, which “[confront] us at every turn and [threaten] us in every dimension of our lives” in very real, tangible ways.[48] When these concrete manifestations of the demonic are experienced, the dialogue of discernment must give way to a “holistic understanding of spiritual warfare… [that] involves, besides the obvious spiritual practices and disciplines, concrete actions against the powers of injustice, destruction, and dehumanization.”[49] Therefore, the most reliable way to discern the truth of theological-soteriological claims made by religious others falls back to the moral-ethical question.

When Jesus warns his disciples about “false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves,” he also provides them with a standard for discernment: “you will know them by their fruits.”[50] Echoing the words of Jesus, Yong’s theology of discernment offers a way for Christians to “know” the presence and activity of the Spirit outside the “official” boundaries of Christian faith. Instead of staking a priori claims that refuse to see the Spirit outside the church, Yong cautions the church to look closely for the “the fruit of the Spirit”[51] in all peoples, cultures, places, and religions in order to participate in the universal “mission of the Spirit to heal and reconcile the social, economic, political, etc., divisions and fragmentation in our world.”[52]

Dialogue with Samuel Soliván and Eldin Villafañe

Having presented Yong’s foundational pneumatology and his corresponding theology of discernment, the voices of two theologians – Samuel Soliván and Eldin Villafañe – who talk about God from a Latino Pentecostal context will be raised to explore Yong’s hypotheses. This dialogue will begin by discussing the place of the Spirit’s personhood in Yong’s foundational pneumatology and will conclude by exploring the place of Christ in Yong’s theology of discernment.

The Personhood of the Spirit in Yong’s Foundational Pneumatology

For Soliván, the Spirit is first and foremost a person who relates to human persons in all their diversity and complexity.[53] He decries how the Spirit’s full personhood has not been honored throughout the theological tradition as it has at times “been subsumed or overshadowed by Christology, ecclesiology, and soteriology.”[54] Soliván expresses his primary concern using a quote from Thomas Oden describing how “the depersonalization of God the Spirit has occurred… [through] unconstrained application of a mistaken impersonal analogy to the person of the Spirit”[55] Tellingly, Oden includes the analogy of the Spirit as “creative energy” in his list of depersonalizing analogies.[56] Given Soliván’s approval of Oden’s thoughts, one may assume that he would also raise an objection to the potential depersonalizing effects of Yong’s description of the Spirit as a “force field” throughout his foundational pneumatology. Soliván sounds a dire warning concerning the danger of these impersonal analogies: “the depersonalization of the Holy Spirit serves the interest of those who would employ a divine image to further their own desires for control” while also being “counter to the imago Dei given to all human creation through the agency of the Spirit.”[57] The urgency of Soliván’s objection arises from his context in the Latin@ culture where he is well aware of the various ways Latin@s are dehumanized and objectified.[58] From this context, Soliván seeks to protect the personhood of the Spirit “because the relationship of the Spirit to persons… can provide a transformative model of personhood and self-esteem” for all people.[59] In addition, Soliván notes how only a fully personal image of the Spirit can relate to and redeem the unique particularities of all human persons in order to create the unity amid diversity that “is the strongest evidence that we have been and are being filled with the Holy Spirit.”[60]

Soliván’s critique raises a serious protest to Yong’s foundational pneumatology. However, Yong’s description of the Spirit in terms of a “force field” is certainly not original. Yves Congar seems to imply this notion when he summarizes the Spirit’s role in Hebrew scripture as “the action of God.”[61] However, Congar does note how this general “action” was at times “intimate” and related to specific persons.[62] Wolfhart Pannenberg describes the Spirit as “the force field of God’s mighty presence.”[63] Jurgen Moltmann, says “God’s Spirit is felt as a vitalizing energy… [or] the divine field of force.”[64] Finally, Michael Welker states that “the pouring out of the spirit means that [an individual human being] stands in a force field… in which he or she is more and more filled with ‘the fullness of God’ (Eph. 3:19).”[65] While Yong’s use of the “force field” analogy may be somewhat justified in light of its use by these other theologians, he still needs to face Soliván’s concerns.

Is there any space for the person of the Spirit in Yong’s foundational pneumatology? At first glance, it seems that his fully public, metaphysical proposal requires an impersonal understanding of the Spirit because he seeks to furnish “a general [public] understanding of divine presence and activity… [understood] against the backdrop of the fundamental hiddenness of the Spirit in mediating… the divine reality [emphasis added].”[66] While the public nature of his project may require a “general” way of talking about the “hidden” Spirit, Yong also frames his foundational pneumatology in “a robust trinitarianism that recognizes the Son [sic] and the Spirit as the two hands of the Father [sic].”[67] This patristic image of the Trinity does seem to capture a dimension of the Spirit and Child’s relation to each other and to the Parent in the mission of creation, yet the Spirit is still described in impersonal terms.

At this point, the work of Eldin Villafañe may help Yong respond to Soliván’s concerns. With Yong, Villafañe affirms the Spirit’s universal presence and activity in creation and highlights how the Spirit functions as a protector and provider in the Genesis 1 creation account.[68] He then connects these functions with two names for the Holy Spirit drawn from 2 Thessalonians and the Gospel of John: “’the Restrainer’ (To Katechon – 2 Thess. 2:6,7)” and “’the Helper’ (Parakletos – John 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7).”[69] Villafañe describes “the Helper” Spirit as the one who is present “wherever good, love, peace, [and] justice… are manifested in the world.”[70] The person of the Spirit identified as “the Helper” fits Yong’s foundational category of divine activity because it describes the work of the Spirit to bring about networks of relationships that are harmonious and authentic. Villafañe describes “the Restrainer” Spirit as the person who “maintains ‘order’… [and] restrains the ‘powers’ from bringing about total oppression and chaos.”[71] This personal image of the Spirit as “the Restrainer” fits Yong’s foundational category of divine absence as it highlights the presence and activity of demonic spirits who oppose the Spirit’s eschatological work. In this way, Villafañe provides Yong with the resources for maintaining the personhood of the Spirit within his foundational pneumatology.

The Place of Christ in Yong’s Theology of Discernment

According to Soliván, “Christ is the norm against which we are to understand and define the Holy Spirit.”[72] He notes what he describes as a contemporary “fascination” with the “spirit” and says that this situation “requires us to differentiate between that Spirit of God… [and] Spirit of the Lord, and other, false spirits that are in fact anti-Christ.”[73] Specifically, Soliván is concerned about “a monistic theology of the Holy Spirit which does not differentiate between the life force of the Spirit in creation and the ministry of the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity.”[74] While he allows for an immanence of the Spirit in creation, he retains a tight grip on the transcendent God who is guiding creation towards redemption in Christ through the lives of individual human persons who become “instruments of the creation’s redemption as [they] are regenerated, refashioned in the image of God’s son [sic]” by the Spirit’s power.[75]

At the root of Soliván’s unease is the relationship between pneumatology and christology. Leading Eastern Orthodox theologian John Zizoulas frames the issue succinctly with two questions: “should Christology be dependent on Pneumatology or should the order be the other way around?” and “when we speak of Christology and Pneumatology, what particular aspects of Christian doctrine – and Christian existence – do we have in mind?”[76] For Soliván, the answers to Zizioulas’s questions seem to be settled: christology takes priority over pneumatology so that the primary arena of the Spirit’s work is limited to the completion of Christ’s redemptive work in the lives of individuals. The Spirit is not “some impersonal force” of creation, which is then deified.”[77]

Yong addresses Zizioulas’ questions regarding the relationship between christology and pneumatology at many points throughout his work. In fact, one of the primary reasons he cites for developing a foundational pneumatology is to “free up some valuable space to reconsider the christological dilemmas” that have created an “impasse” in contemporary discussions concerning a theology of religions.[78] At the same time, he is clear that he does not mean to give priority to either christology or pneumatology.[79] Yong states that his foundational pneumatology is not an “escape from Christology” because any question about the norms, integrity, or authenticity of any created thing – questions that are essential for Yong’s theology of discernment – are, at root, questions about the presence of the Christ.[80] He further states that discernment should be “guided by the biblical and ecclesial traditions” and “normed by Jesus Christ.”[81] For Yong, “the Spirit’s work is to constitute each thing authentically in accordance with its own norms and purposes even while bringing all things together ultimately under the normative measure of all norms: Jesus the Christ.”[82] While it is clear that Yong does not seek to divorce his foundational pneumatology from christology, he seems to be in disagreement with Soliván’s restriction of the Spirit’s domain to “saved” individuals. This contrast with Soliván is on full display when Yong states that “non-Christian faiths can be regarded as salvific in the Christian sense when the Spirit’s presence and activity in and through them” is correctly discerned.[83]

At this point, Villafañe’s work is helpful once again as a mediating voice between Soliván and Yong. Villafañe notes how “Jesus’ life and mission were both inaugurated and empowered by the Holy Spirit” to the extent that Jesus could rightfully be called the “Charismatic Christ.”[84] In Villafañe’s view, Jesus’ dependence on the Spirit leaves little room for any subordination between christology and pneumatology and calls for equal, mutual relations between Christ and the Spirit. Villafañe further contributes to the dialogue by explaining how the Spirit is at work in creation above and beyond the realm of the redemptive work of Christ in individuals. He begins by examining “the texture of social existence” where he finds the presence of potentially evil social structures “that seem to have an objective reality independent of the individual [emphasis added].”[85] He then notes how “the Gospel of the Reign” witnessed in the Spirit-anointed incarnation of Jesus Christ brings total liberation from the demonic forces operating in social structures.[86] Therefore, all people baptized in the Spirit are empowered to continue Jesus’ mission through their “struggles with the forces of sin and death, with the demonic powers that-be, whether individually or institutionally manifested.”[87]

Villafañe’s insight illuminates how Soliván may come to an agreement with Yong concerning the place of Christ in the discernment of the Spirit’s work in the world. Yong states that the end goal of his theology of discernment is “our full immersion into the liberating and reconciling work of the Spirit of God in all spheres of life” because “it is empowered by the Spirit and directed to the kingdom of the Father through Jesus Christ.”[88] Seen in the light of Villafañe’s thoughts, Yong’s theology of discernment is shown to be christological to the core because it enables individuals and communities to join the Spirit in the continuing mission of Jesus. It seems that Soliván’s christological “limit” is really no limit at all because the work of Jesus is no less than the universal work of the Spirit.


The praxeological implications arising from Yong’s foundational pneumatology and its corresponding theology of discernment are as universal as the Spirit’s presence and activity in creation. As I consider how to apply his work to my own life and ministry, I believe his recent book, Hospitality and the Other: Pentecost, Christian Practices, and the Neighbor, provides a very helpful guide for moving from his abstract, metaphysical theology into the realm of everyday life. In this book, Yong weaves his pneumatological framework together with a theology and practice of hospitality.[89] While he focuses on practicing hospitality with religious others, Yong’s work invites application in a wide-array of contexts where “otherness” may not be defined in strictly religious terms… [to be continued ;)]

[1] Amos Yong, The Spirit Poured Out on All Flesh: Pentecostalism and the Possibility of Global Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2005), 17.

[2] Amos Yong, “On Divine Presence and Divine Agency: Toward a Foundational Pneumatology,” Asian Journal of Pentecostal Studies 3, no. 2 (July 2000): 167.

[3] Ibid., 180.

[4] My church is affiliated with the Vineyard church network. See http://www.vineyardusa.org for details.

[5] Yong, “On Divine Presence and Divine Agency: Toward a Foundational Pneumatology”: 175.

[6] “Amos Yong – School of Divinity – Regent University,” Regent University, accessed May 5, 2013, http://www.regent.edu/acad/schdiv/faculty_staff/yong.shtml.

[7] Amos Yong, Beyond the Impasse: Toward a Pneumatological Theology of Religions (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003), 9.

[8] Roger E. Olson, “A Wind that Swirls Everywhere: Pentecostal Scholar Amos Yong Thinks He Sees the Holy Spirit Working in Other Religions, Too,” Christianity Today 50, no. 3 (March 1, 2006): 53.

[9] “Amos Yong – School of Divinity – Regent University.”

[10] Yong, Beyond the Impasse, 10.

[11] Amos Yong, Discerning the Spirit(s): A Pentecostal-Charismatic Contribution to Christian Theology of Religions (Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic Press, 2000), 105. For examples of these affirmations, see Jurgen Moltmann, The Spirit of Life: A Universal Affirmation (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992), 8-10 and Clark H. Pinnock, “The Role of the Spirit in Creation,” Asbury Theological Journal 52, no. 1 (March 1, 1997): 47-54.

[12] Amos Yong, “Spiritual Discernment: A Biblical-Theological Reconsideration,” in The Spirit and Spirituality, eds. Wonsuk Ma and Robert P. Menzies (London: T&T Clark International, 2004), 87, 91.

[13] Yong, Discerning the Spirit(s), 116, 120.

[14] Heinz-Josef Fabry, “רוּחַ,” in The Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, ed. G. Johannes Botterweck, Helmer Ringgren, and Heinz-Josef Fabry, trans. David E. Green, vol. 12 (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2004), 386.

[15] Yong, Discerning the Spirit(s), 118.

[16] Yong, “Spiritual Discernment,” 87.

[17] Donald L. Gelpi, S.J. The Divine Mother: A Trinitarian Theology of the Holy Spirit (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1984), viii.

[18] Yong, Discerning the Spirit(s), 122.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ralph Del Colle, “The Experience of the Divine,” Chicago Studies 31, (November 1992): 293-294.

[21] Yong, Discerning the Spirit(s), 123.

[22] Ibid., 125.

[23] Ibid., 124.

[24] Ibid., 125.

[25] Yong, The Spirit Poured Out on All Flesh, 252.

[26] Yong, Discerning the Spirit(s), 127, 129.

[27] Ibid., 130.

[28] Ibid., 131.

[29] Ibid., 133.

[30] Ibid., 132.

[31] Yong, The Spirit Poured Out on all Flesh, 254.

[32] Ibid.

[33] Amos Yong, “As the Spirit Gives Utterance: Pentecost, Intra-Christian Ecumenism and the Wider Oikoumene,” International Review Of Mission 92, no. 366 (July 1, 2003): 301, 305.

[34] Yong, “Spiritual Discernment,” 84, 98.

[35] Yong, Beyond the Impasse, 165.

[36] Yong, Discerning the Spirit(s), 250.

[37] Yong, Discerning the Spirit(s), 251.

[38] Ibid., 144.

[39] Yong, “Spiritual Discernment,” 100.

[40] Yong, Discerning the Spirit(s), 252.

[41] Ibid., 253.

[42] Yong, “Spiritual Discernment,” 101.

[43] Yong, Discerning the Spirit(s), 253.

[44] Ibid., 254.

[45] Ibid.

[46] Amos Yong, “The Holy Spirit and the World Religions: On the Christian Discernment of Spirit(s) ‘After’ Buddhism,” Buddhist-Christian Studies 24, (January 1, 2004): 197.

[47] Ibid., 199.

[48] Yong, “Spiritual Discernment,” 102, 103.

[49] Ibid., 103.

[50] Mt. 7:16.

[51] See Gal. 5:22-23.

[52] Yong, “As the Spirit Gives Utterance”: 307.

[53] Samuel Soliván, “The Holy Spirit – Personalization and the Affirmation of Diversity: A Pentecostal Hispanic Perspective,” in Teologia en Conjunto: A Collaborative Hispanic Protestant Theology, eds. José David Rodríguez and Loida I. Martell-Otero (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1997), 50.

[54] Ibid., 51.

[55] Thomas C. Oden, Life in the Spirit: Systematic Theology, vol. 3 (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1992), 20 as cited in Samuel Solivan, “The Holy Spirit,” 53.

[56] Ibid.

[57] Soliván, “The Holy Spirit,” 53.

[58] Ibid.

[59] Ibid.

[60] Ibid., 59.

[61] Yves M. J. Congar, I Believe in the Holy Spirit, vol. 1, trans. David Smith (New York: The Seabury Press,  1983), 12.

[62] Ibid., 11.

[63] Wolfhart Pannenberg, Systematic Theology, vol. 1, trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1988), 383.

[64] Jurgen Moltmann, The Spirit of Life: A Universal Affirmation, trans. Margaret Kohl (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992), 195.

[65] Michael Welker, “The Holy Spirit,” Theology Today 46, no. 1 (April 1, 1989): 17.

[66] Yong, Discerning the Spirit(s), 98.

[67] Ibid., 311.

[68] Eldin Villafañe, The Liberating Spirit: Toward an Hispanic American Pentecostal Social Ethic (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1993), 182.

[69] Ibid., 183.

[70] Ibid.

[71] Ibid.

[72] Soliván, “The Holy Spirit,” 54.

[73] Ibid, 52.

[74] Samuel Soliván, “Which Spirit: What Creation?,” Christianity And Crisis 51, no. 10-11 (July 15, 1991): 225.

[75] Ibid.

[76] John D. Zizioulas, Being as Communion: Studies in Personhood and the Church (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s University Press, 1985), 126-28, 130-32, 136, as cited in Veli-Matti Karkkainen,ed., Holy Spirit and Salvation (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 283.

[77] Soliván, “Which Spirit: What Creation?”: 225.

[78] Yong, Discerning the Spirit(s), 33.

[79] Ibid., 98.

[80] Ibid., 136.

[81] Yong, “The Holy Spirit and the World Religions”: 203.

[82] Yong, Discerning the Spirit(s), 131.

[83] Ibid., 312.

[84] Villafañe, The Liberating Spirit, 185.

[85] Villafañe, The Liberating Spirit, 176.

[86] Ibid., 186.

[87] Ibid., 187-87.

[88] Yong, “As the Spirit Gives Utterance”: 307.

[89] Amos Yong, Hospitality and the Other: Pentecost, Christian Practices, and the Neighbor (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2008), xiii-xiv.

Light em Up: Jurgen Moltmann Responds to Mark Driscoll

Well, it seems that Mark Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, WA, is back in the “spotlight” for making ridiculous theological statements. This time, it happened at a Christian conference called Catalyst. According to the Friendly Atheist blog, Driscoll said something like this:

I know who made the environment and he’s coming back and going to burn it all up. So yes, I drive an SUV.

Of course, we don’t have the full context of the quote, so who knows why he would say such a thing. Maybe he’s been listening to Fall Out Boy’s new single “My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark” a little too much lately?



Ignoring the actual content of this statement, Driscoll’s statement reminds me of how important one’s eschatology is to their day to day life. Your vision of the “end” carries significant practical import. What is the world coming to? Or, what is coming to the world? (Rather, who?)

Anyways, I’ve been doing some research on pneumatology – the theology of the Holy Spirit – for a final paper and came across something that expresses my response to Driscoll’s ideas reflected in the quote above. In his book on pneumatology The Spirit of Life, Jurgen Moltmann says this:

To experience the fellowship of the Spirit inevitably carries Christianity beyond itself into the greater fellowship of all God’s creatures. For the community of creation, in which all created things exist with one another, for one another and in one another, is also the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. Both experiences of the Spirit bring the church today into solidarity with the cosmos, which is so mortally threatened. Faced with ‘the end of nature’, the churches will either discover the cosmic significance of Christ and the Spirit, or they will share the guilt for the annihilation of God’s earthly creation. In earlier times, contempt for life, hostility towards the body, and detachment from the world was merely an inward attitude of mind. Now it has become an everyday reality in the cynicism of the progressive destruction of nature. Discovery of the cosmic breadth of God’s Spirit leads in the opposite direction – to respect for the dignity of all created things, in which God is present through his Spirit.

Could it be that Driscoll is so enamored by “Jesus” that he has forgotten about the Spirit? Methinks so. Here’s to praying for Driscoll’s baptism in the Spirit in the near future!

And, just in case the Moltmann quote wasn’t clear enough, here’s a nice summary from Bill McKibben of 350.org (albeit from a Christological/soteriological perspective):


The Fruit of the Spirit in the World

Who is the Holy Spirit? I tried to answer this question in my credo by stating that “the Holy Spirit is God: the absolutely unique Trinitarian person who exists as God in eternal, mutual relations with God the Parent and God the Child.” The Spirit is not a possession of God, nor a “part” of God – the Spirit is the one true God. The Spirit’s ousia, or ontological substance, is the same divine ousia shared by God the Parent and God the Child so that the Spirit is equally God. At the same time, the Spirit is a divine hypostasis, or absolutely unique person, whose shared life of communion together with the Parent and the Child is the Triune God. As a Trinitarian person, the Spirit is eternally distinguished from yet related to the Parent and the Child. While my credo highlights the essential Trinitarian foundation of the Spirit’s identity, more needs to be said in order to define the Spirit’s relation to the Parent and the Child.

In 381 CE, the First Council of Constantinople identified the Spirit’s unique Trinitarian relation in an expanded statement of the Nicene Creed by naming the Spirit as the “Lifegiver, who proceeds from the Father [sic].”[1] While much debate has occurred over the origin of the Spirit’s procession, I believe the Creed’s naming of the Spirit as the Lifegiver succinctly identifies the Spirit’s Trinitarian relations. The Spirit is the Lifegiver because the Spirit is the One who invites and receives the Parent and the Child and therefore acts as the keeper of the divine “event of communion” which is the life of Trinity.[2] The Spirit is not simply the “bond of love” between the Parent and the Child, but a fully equal participant in the divine communion. The Spirit is one who “personalizes” the Parent and the Child by affirming their unique, particular identities.[3] The Parent and Child freely respond to the Spirit who calls them by name. As the Spirit freely receives them, the Spirit’s own identity is “personalized.” This reciprocal affirmation of unique identity hosted by the Spirit is the essential ground of otherness which is “constitutive” of the Trinity’s life of communion among the equal, mutual, relational persons of the Parent, Child and Spirit.[4] The Spirit, therefore, is correctly identified as the one who is uniquely related to the Parent and Child as the Lifegiver.

However, the Spirit’s identity is not confined to the inner life of Trinitarian relations. As I stated in my credo, “the Spirit is the power of God at work in the world bringing about the new creation.” This statement broadly encapsulates one dimension of the Spirit’s outward mission in human history, but it needs further clarification. How is creation made new? What is the connection between the Spirit’s new creation work and the work of Christ?

Just as the Spirit calls forth the life of Trinity, so the Spirit invites and empowers “all creation to join in the dance that characterizes God’s life.”[5] Molly Marshall describes this dance as perichoresis: “a relationship of mutuality in which persons draw their identity from being related to others… [which] calls forth reciprocal sharing of life.”[6] All creation is made new by the Spirit as its true purpose and identity is found through its participation in and imitation of the perichoretic life of the Triune God.

The work of the Spirit invites all creation to complete renewal by its participation in the Triune life of God. This invitation is made possible through the incarnation of the Divine Child, Jesus Christ, who is the true, inaugural embodiment of the Spirit’s new creation work. The incarnation of Christ was itself a work of the Spirit and Jesus begins his ministry by affirming the presence and power of the Spirit on his life.[7] Since the Spirit is an active, essential participant in the incarnation of Jesus, the Spirit’s new creation work is neither subordinated to nor subsumed by the work of Christ. Yet, Jesus is the one through whom the Spirit’s power gives birth to a new community “in which faith, love, and hope are alive… [as] justice, the protection of the weak, and the knowledge of God and of truth are forever sought anew.”[8] All creation is restored as its participation in the life of God through the presence and power of the Spirit incarnates the life of Jesus to particular people and places.

In my credo, I explicitly identified this Jesus-centered, Spirit-empowered community as the church; the body of Christ to which the Spirit gives gifts of grace for its good. While the Spirit does have a unique work within the church, I also stated that “the Spirit is comforter, guide, and advocate for those who seek the salvation of God.” The established church is not the sole repository or mediator of the divine Lifegiver. Rather, the Spirit’s presence is empowering all people “who seek the salvation of God” – regardless of whether this divine purpose is explicitly confessed. With Craig Nessan, I agree that “the Spirit of God is alive in history today to accomplish freedom.”[9] The Spirit works in all things which lead “to genuine human self-realization of all persons and peoples,” but is opposed to that which “insults, degrades, dehumanizes, and discriminates against any portion of humanity.”[10] The church empowered by the Spirit should be a willing, gracious partner in this liberative, life-giving work of new creation, but the Spirit’s mission continues even in spite of the church’s ignorance, apathy, and, in some cases, its opposition.

However, in focusing on the role of the Spirit in bringing about the “new” creation, my credo ignored the Spirit’s role in the basis for this work: creation itself. The entirety of God’s creation at all times and in all places owes its past, present, and future being to the divine Lifegiver. In Hebrew scripture, the Spirit is the ruach: the divine “wind” hovering over the formless waters before creation came to be and the divine “breath” that breathed life into the dust.[11] As the Psalmist sings, creation breathes the Spirit, the ruach of God, or it does not breathe at all.[12] The work of the Spirit is the caring work of nurture that sustains the membership of infinite diversity in the creation community which is the image of the Triune God. Creation is alive with the Spirit who is opposed to all relational patterns that destroy the image of God by bringing death to creation.

As Jesus explained to Nicodemus, the Spirit is like the wind: “the wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.”[13] Like Nicodemus, I often question the work of the Spirit because I am used to being in control; at best, I am curiously apathetic, and, at worst, I am arrogantly dismissive. The first step for me in joining the Spirit’s work will be one of humility as I learn to surrender my false sense of control over where the Spirit blows its breath of life. This step of humility calls me to follow the Spirit’s direction towards the places of suffering and death where God’s image is being destroyed. As the Apostle Peter proclaimed on the day of Pentecost, it is the Spirit who gives sight for God’s vision of the future which leads creation to its salvation in the life of the Triune God.[14] In submitting my power and control to the life-giving work of the Spirit in the dying, forgotten places, I open myself to rebirth, to being “born from above” by the Spirit so that I might “see the Kingdom of God.”[15] I pray to no longer be apathetic or dismissive of the Spirit’s work. I pray that as the Spirit gives me “visions of the end for which [creation] has been made” that I would be “restless of anything short of that destination.”[16]

[1] William G. Rusch, ed., The Trinitarian Controversy  (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1980),  49.

[2] John Zizioulas, “Communion and Otherness,” St. Vladimir’s Theological Quaterly 38, no. 4 (1994): 354.

[3] Ibid., 354.

[4] Zizioulas, 353.

[5] Molly T. Marshall, “Participating in the Life of the God: A Trinitarian Pneumatology,” Perspectives in Religious Studies 30, no. 2 (Summer 2003): 150.

[6] Marshall, 145.

[7] Lk. 1:35, 4:18, NRSV.

[8] Michael Welker, “Holy Spirit and the Holy Communion,” Word and World 23, no. 2 (Spring 2003): 155.

[9] Craig L. Nessan, “Allergic to the Spirit No More: Rethinking Pneumatology,” Currents in Theology and Mission 21 (June 1994) 3: 192.

[10] Ibid., 203-204.

[11] Nessan, 184.

[12] Ps. 104:29-30.

[13] Jn 3:8.

[14] Acts 2:17.

[15] Jn 3:3.

[16] Gabriel Fackre, The Christian Story: A Narrative Interpretation of Basic Christian Doctrine, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1996), 154.