Alternative ways of speaking of the Trinity

Sometimes it’s worthwhile to explore the Bible in its original languages. The Hebrew word used for the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament is Ruah. The Greek word used for the Holy Spirit in the New Testament is Pneuma. Both mean Spirit or Breath. So it is quite orthodox to refer to the Holy Spirit as the Breath of God. Now, as one of the titles for Jesus in the New Testament is the Word of God this raises some interesting possibilities for alternative language when speaking of the Trinity: instead of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we could say Speaker, Word, and Breath.

It makes no sense to talk of the Trinity without the Holy Spirit

I’ve noticed that discussions on the Trinity between Muslims and Christians tend to focus on God and Jesus. But it makes no sense to talk of “Trinity” without also focusing on the third person: the Holy Spirit.

In the book of Acts there is an incident where Peter, one of the apostles of Jesus, equates lying to the Holy Spirit with lying to God. Peter says, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied just to human beings but to God.”

Elsewhere in scripture it’s made clear that the Holy Spirit can be grieved and blasphemed against. It’s for this and many other reasons that Christians affirm the Holy Spirit is personal and relational, not merely an impersonal force or an emanation of the power of God. We believe that through the Holy Spirit, God guides us, empowers us, and sanctifies us. No discussion of the Trinity could be complete without the Holy Spirit of God and Jesus.

On the person of the Holy Spirit

I’ve noticed that discussions on the Trinity between Muslims and Christians tend to focus on God and Jesus. But it makes no sense to talk of “Trinity” without also focusing on the third person: the Holy Spirit.

In the book of Acts there is an incident where Peter, one of the apostles of Jesus, equates lying to the Holy Spirit with lying to God. Peter says, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied just to human beings but to God.”

Elsewhere in scripture it’s made clear that the Holy Spirit can be grieved and blasphemed against. It’s for this and many other reasons that Christians affirm the Holy Spirit is personal and relational, not merely an impersonal force or an emanation of the power of God. We believe that through the Holy Spirit, God guides us, empowers us, and sanctifies us. No discussion of the Trinity could be complete without the Holy Spirit of God and Jesus.

The Holy Spirit and the Trinity

In theological texts the doctrine of the Trinity is often dealt with as part of Theology Proper. Personally however I find it more logical to deal with it as part of Pneumatology. For it’s not until the Holy Spirit is explored more fully that the relationship between the three persons of the Trinity can be explored more fully. And indeed one of the more debated aspects of the doctrine of the Trinity – the filioque clause – is focussed on the Holy Spirit. So, I tend to deal with monotheism as part of Theology Proper, the doctrine of the Incarnation as part of Christology, and the doctrine of the Trinity as part of Pneumatology.

Thoughts on the filioque controversy

holy-spiritI have been thinking about the Filioque controversy. The Orthodox tradition affirms the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father … and nothing need more be said. The Catholic and Protestant traditions affirm the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father AND the Son. I agree with the Orthodox that this AND is problematic as it tends to shift Trinitarian theology from locating the unity of God in the person of the Father to locating it in a more abstract Godhead. However I also agree with western tradition that it’s helpful to say something about the Holy Spirit in relation to the Son. So, as a Christian who values both Protestant and Orthodox tradition, I am inclined to speak of the Holy Spirit as proceeding from the Father THROUGH the Son, though I am happy to leave the Creed in its original, ecumenical, Orthodox form for the sake of ecumenism. In this I believe I am in good company with both Tertullian and John of Damascus who both used the THROUGH expression. I like this way as it puts the emphasis on the Son as mediator.

Missional Spirituality

Last weekend I finally got to meet Karina Kreminski in the flesh, fully incarnate you might say, and it has prompted me to lay out where some of my own thinking on Missional Spirituality has led me (given that Missional Spirituality is the focus of the doctorate she is working on). I think its a hugely important topic that I’d like to see more and more people collaborating on. This is a rough draft only and no doubt there are gaps, so think of it as a conversation starter, nothing more.

The religious ambivalence of the average Australian

  • The religious stance of many Australians could be described as ambivalent
  • Confronted with so many religious choices they have chosen not to choose
  • Given this, even Atheism has limited appeal, as this too requires too much conviction
  • What results is a consumerist, a la carte approach to ir/religion, where the customer is always right and the only wrong is to have your choices arbitrarily limited by others
  • Many of these Australians have a residual Christian identity, but an increasing number don’t
  • But either way it is clear that Christ is not central to their path but peripheral at best

The religious intensity of the cultural influencers

  • Religious ambivalence is not always shared by cultural influencers
  • On the contrary, many on the cutting edge of culture tend to be much more ir/religiously intense – whether we are talking of Atheists or Christians, Muslims or Wiccans
  • It is instructive to compare religious adoption curves to technological adoption curves, where innovators and earlier adopters, while fewer in number than the early and late majority, have disproportionate influence
  • In short, innovative religious minorities should not be ignored by missional Christians but, on the contrary, recognized as potential bellwethers for cultural change in Australia and beyond

The call for a more Missional Spirituality

  • One thing which is common to both the ambivalent majority and (militant Atheists aside) many elements of the innovative minority is an increased emphasis on spirituality.
  • It can be argued, however, that neither the Missional movement nor the Charistmatic movement have bequeathed Australian Christians with a fully fleshed Missional spirituality
  • The attention of the Missional movement tends to be focussed far more on Church contextualization (ecclesiology) than contextual Spirituality (pneumatology).
  • The attention of the Charismatic movement, while focussed firmly on Spirituality (pneumatology), tends to have a “Temple focus” rather than an “Exile” focus, with a tendency to demonize religious others without trying to understand (e.g. when I suggest to Charismatics that they should not just pray “for” Wiccans at a distance but pray “with” them in the midst of their lives the conversation often ends in stunned silence).
  • What we need more of is a Spirituality that is “in the world, but not of the world”.
  • We need to explore how the spirituality of religious innovators and the religiously ambivalent may serve as alters to the Unknown God (Acts 17), through which we can share our own understanding of the Spirit of God as revealed to us through the Messiah.
  • Contextual communication may extend to reworking imported spiritual concepts such as “chi”, “qi”, “energy” and “prana” in more Christ centred and Christ honouring ways to aid mutual understanding (and dare I say it, mutual transformation).
  • This implies moving considerably beyond the Celtic revivalism of the NeoMonastic movement, particularly when ministering amongst non-Anglo and globalised-Anglo Australians, though in a complementary manner

Haiku on the Spirit of God

During the service on Sunday, whilst reflecting on Acts 2, we were invited to creatively express our experience of the Spirit of God by drawing an image or writing a haiku. This is the haiku I wrote:

Flames fall upon me

Heart awakened by Spirit

Not of my doing.

Christian Guideposts on Chi

Those of you interested in engaging with the concept of Chi and the related disciplines of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Martial Arts, Fung Shui and so forth, would be well advised to read Christian Guideposts on Chi: An Evangelical Assessment of Chi and Related Activities by Brett Yardley. Here are a few comments I found worthy of consideration:

It is unfortunate that at this stage some Christians have attempted to dispense with the entire notion of ch’i as wholly incompatible with Christianity simply due to its eastern origins. Yet, this is an overly simplistic type of reasoning, since to belittle and reject all eastern thought solely by pointing out its source is a genetic fallacy. Christians will do well to remember that Judaism and Christianity, despite the unfortunate label of being “Western Religions,” were in fact born in the east amongst eastern people.

In general, Christians can relate to the overall summary of [Traditional Chinese Medicine’s] pragmatic methods of “all things in moderation.” In fact [Traditional Chinese Medicine’s] push to moderate one’s lifestyle, control sexual urges, and caring for one’s body (which Paul refers to as a temple of the Lord, 1 Corinthians 6:18), are in line with a Christian worldview. However, embracing the philosophical awareness and wisdom that [Traditional Chinese Medicine] is supposed to provide for personal wellness should be considered suspect since the Christian’s personal well-being and wisdom should come from their relationship with Christ.

So long as Christians still abstain from the divination practices of Feng Shui, taking this definition would free users to see Feng Shui as nothing more than an aesthetic art form

No, detachment is not enough; we must go on to attachment. The detachment from the confusion all around us is in order to have a richer attachment to God. Christian meditation leads us to inner wholeness necessary to give ourselves to God freely.

As a result, the “soft” side of martial arts dealing with inner development often includes harmony with and controlling ch’i, as opposed to the “hard” side including physical conditioning and strikes.

As previously mentioned, the use and definition of ch’i neither fits any of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, nor acts in way that would serve the ministries of the church.

According to the Japanese Catholic Theologian Yohji Inoue, the foundation of Western thinking is “substance” (object) while Japanese thinking is “the field which envelopes substances.”

The Missional Spirit

Thanks to my pastor, Des, I am thinking about the Missional Spirit once more. In the past I have highlighted the need for a more empowering and ancient way of understanding the Spirit. A way beyond the ways of Cessationism, Pentecostalism and Pantheism. A way which more fully appreciates the work of the Spirit in the world. A way which, in a word, is more missional.

There are a number of contours I think need to be explored here:

  1. Worship as the foundation for witness ; Spirituality as a foundation for mission
  2. The Spirit as Christ-centred in orientation and Christ-like in character
  3. General and Special activity of the Spirit, recognized and unrecognized
  4. Engaging with the language of Spirit in different religious movements
  5. Demonic fears as, sometimes, undiagnosed culture shock
  6. Prayer as a compliment to evangelism, not a substitute
  7. Idolatry as a more helpful category than demonology when engaging with other religions, given that idols include good thinks inappropriately worshipped as ultimate things, and not just bad things.
  8. Gifts of the Spirit and fruit of the Spirit

If there are any you think I should add, comment away.

Holy Spirit Fire [Art]

Holy-spirit-fire-signiture-indecipherable

Sorry folks, as you may have gathered I’ve been rather silent the last two months.

Combination of things really. More reading, less access to the laptop while my wife has started up studies again, diversions elsewhere, writers block and belated realization that I’m suffering from depression.

I’m working on the latter now.

So, to finish on a more optimistic note, here’s an image called “Holy Spirit Fire”. I have no idea who the artist is as I can’t read the signature but I knida like it.

Commitment to the Spirit and missional Spirituality

The Cape Town Commitment contains many wonderful affirmations but this evening I find myself reflecting on the Spirit and missional Spirituality. Are these words you would affirm? What would missionary practice look like if shaped by a pneumatology (aka Spiritual understanding) like this?

We Love God the Holy Spirit

We love the Holy Spirit within the unity of the Trinity, along with God the Father and God the Son. He is the missionary Spirit sent by the missionary Father and the missionary Son, breathing life and power into God’s missionary Church. We love and pray for the presence of the Holy Spirit because without the witness of the Spirit to Christ, our own witness is futile. Without the convicting work of the Spirit, our preaching is in vain. Without the gifts, guidance and power of the Spirit, our mission is mere human effort. And without the fruit of the Spirit, our unattractive lives cannot reflect the beauty of the gospel.

A)    In the Old Testament we see the Spirit of God active in creation, in works of liberation and justice, and in filling and empowering people for every kind of service. Spirit-filled prophets looked forward to the coming King and Servant, whose Person and work would be endowed with God’s Spirit. Prophets also looked to the coming age that would be marked by the outpouring of God’s Spirit, bringing new life, fresh obedience, and prophetic gifting to all the people of God, young and old, men and women.

B)    At Pentecost God poured out his Holy Spirit as promised by the prophets and by Jesus. The sanctifying Spirit produces his fruit in the lives of believers, and the first fruit is always love. The Spirit fills the Church with his gifts, which we ‘eagerly desire’ as the indispensable equipment for Christian service. The Spirit gives us power for mission and for the great variety of works of service. The Spirit enables us to proclaim and demonstrate the gospel, to discern the truth, to pray effectively and to prevail over the forces of darkness. The Spirit inspires and accompanies our worship. The Spirit strengthens and comforts disciples who are persecuted or on trial for their witness to Christ.

C)    Our engagement in mission, then, is pointless and fruitless without the presence, guidance and power of the Holy Spirit. This is true of mission in all its dimensions: evangelism, bearing witness to the truth, discipling, peace-making, social engagement, ethical transformation, caring for creation, overcoming evil powers, casting out demonic spirits, healing the sick, suffering and enduring under persecution. All we do in the name of Christ must be led and empowered by the Holy Spirit. The New Testament makes this clear in the life of the early Church and the teaching of the apostles. It is being demonstrated today in the fruitfulness and growth of Churches where Jesus’ followers act confidently in the power of the Holy Spirit, with dependence and expectation.

There is no true or whole gospel, and no authentic biblical mission, without the Person, work and power of the Holy Spirit. We pray for a greater awakening to this biblical truth, and for its experience to be reality in all parts of the worldwide body of Christ. However, we are aware of the many abuses that masquerade under the name of the Holy Spirit, the many ways in which all kinds of phenomena are practised and praised which are not the gifts of the Holy Spirit as clearly taught in the New Testament. There is great need for more profound discernment, for clear warnings against delusion, for the exposure of fraudulent and self-serving manipulators who abuse spiritual power for their own ungodly enrichment. Above all there is a great need for sustained biblical teaching and preaching, soaked in humble prayer, that will equip ordinary believers to understand and rejoice in the true gospel and to recognise and reject false gospels.