Posts Tagged ‘Spirit’

The Spirit in Creation

July 26, 2008

Another heady excerpt from a paper…

            Due in part to Jewish tradition, and as supported by the idea of appropriation[1], the Father has traditionally been identified as the Author of creation. While this is true, it is also equally false in that it is only part of the story.  In his chapter ‘Spirit in Creation,’ Pinnock provides tremendous insight to the part the Spirit plays in the creation of the universe and life as a whole as well as creation of new life in the soteriological sense.

According to the Nicene Creed, the Holy Spirit is “the giver of life.”[2]  And yet, rarely is the Spirit spoken of in this way in the Western Church.  More often than note God is credited with creation as the Father.  As stated earlier, it seems that the Jewish traditions as well as appropriation have contributed to this.  Pinnock however, wastes no time in calling attention to the fact that “theology has often diminished the Spirit’s activities to much smaller proportions, in effect marginalizing the Spirit to the realm of church and piety.”[3]  There are multiple passages in the Scriptures that speak of the Spirit as the giver of life.[4]  For instance Job declares that “The Spirit of God has made me; the breath of the Almighty gives me life” (Job 33:4).  Isaiah “says that creation will be desolate ‘until a spirit from on high is poured out on us, and the wilderness becomes a fruitful field’ (Is 32:15).”[5]And straight from the beginning of creation, it is the Spirit of God that hovers over the waters (Gen 1:2) and then later breathed into Adam’s nostrils when he “became a living being” (Gen 2:7).[6]  Additionally, the converse of this idea serves to support the idea of Spirit as life-giver in that “all life perishes when God withdraws the Spirit (Ps.104:29; Job 34:13-14).”[7]  Wolfhart Pannenberg has similar ideas and builds on it to say that “life is essentially ecstatic,”[8] which is a word he uses (used also by Pinnock) to define the Spirit, and “this means that each organism lives in an environment that nurtures it and each organism is oriented by its own drives beyond its immediate environment, on which it is dependent, to its future and to the future of its species.”[9]  Similarly, Pinnock says, “God created the world and acts in history to advance the purpose of fostering a community of personal relationships, modeled on the social Trinity, where the gifts of each person are celebrated and nurtured.”[10]  Spirit is the giver of life not just in the moment of the creation of the universe, but in the sense that she gave life in life-giving environments that would sustain that life.

One of Pinnock’s biggest arguments for Spirit as the giver of new life is that “only the Spirit of creation is strong enough to be the Spirit of resurrection.”[11]  And others agree that “everywhere the work of the Spirit is closely related to that of the Son, from creation to salvation to the consummation of creation in eschaton.”[12]  In fact, Kärkkäinen says “The Spirit who is active in salvation is active in creation and in the consummation of God’s eternal plan:[13]

the same Holy Spirit of God who is given to believers in a wholly specific way, namely, so as to dwell in them (Rom. 5:9; 1 Cor. 3:16), is none other than the Creator of all life in the whole range of natural occurrence and also in the new creation and the resurrection of the dead.[14]

Even Calvin is said to have believed the Spirit was the giver of life in creation as well as new life.  Harink says of Calvin’s theology that “The deity of the Holy Spirit is proved in what the Spirit effects in creation and redemption.”[15]  Indeed Calvin himself “describes the Spirit as the ‘author of redemption.’”[16]  While in Matsoukas’ article on “The Economy of the Holy Spirit: The Standpoint of Orthodox Theology,” there is not much said about the Spirit as life-giver in the sense of creation, which seems an interesting omission, he does state that “according to Saint Basil, there is no gift given to the creature which the Holy Spirit is not present.  The Spirit is the Spirit of Truth, the gift of adoption [huiothesia]…a life-giving force, and the source of sanctification.”[17]

The implications of these ideas have a positive and negative side.  One the one side, “the Spirit is not relegated to religious spaces”[18] and as such her divinity is reaffirmed as is her the power.  It seems that emphasizing the work of the Spirit in giving life and new life is quite necessary in addressing the imbalance of Western Christianity.  While the Father and Son are given quite a bit of attention, the Spirit is mentioned and discussed very infrequently.  On the flip side of this however, is a potential downfall of Pinnock’s ideas.  While in present times the Holy Spirit is often neglected, some time from now, when that imbalance has been corrected, it seems the danger exists for the pendulum to swing the opposite direction where the Spirit is getting an over abundance of attention to the point that the Father and Son are over shadowed by the working of the Holy Spirit.  In an ideal world, the three persons of the Trinity would be understood as equal on a fundamental level.  It seems however, that humanity is limited in its capacity to do this and thus the pendulum is destined to swing from one extreme to another in response to cultural circumstances and theological scholarship.  That said it seems that this pendulum swing is long overdue.  Hopefully the restoration of Spirit to her place of honor and equality with Father and Son will even out the Western churches understanding of the Triune Godhead.


[1] Alister E. McGrath, Christian Theology: An Introduction (Madden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2007), 252.

[2] Presbyterian Church (USA), The Westminster Catechism [Larger], The Book of Confessions. (Louisville, KY: The Office of the General Assembly Presbyterian Church (USA), 2002), 3.

[3] Pinnock, Flame of Love, 49.

[4] Pinnock, Flame of Love, 52-53.

[5] Ibid., 54.

[6] Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen, “The Working of the Spirit of God in Creation and in the People of God: the Pneumatology of Wolfhart Pannenberg,” Pneuma 26, no. 1 (Fall 2004), 19.

[7] Ibid. 

[8] Ibid., 25.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Pinnock, Flame of Love, 45.

[11] Pinnock, Flame of Love, 63.

[12] Kärkkäinen, “The Working of the Spirit of God in Creation and in the People of God,” 26.

[13] Ibid., 28.

[14] Wolfhart Pannenberg, Systematic Theology, vol 3 (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1994), 2 quoted in Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen, “The Working of the Spirit of God in Creation and in the People of God: the Pneumatology of Wolfhart Pannenberg,” Pneuma 26, no. 1 (Fall 2004), 28.

[15] Douglas K. Harink, “Spirit in the World in the Theology of John Calvin: A Contribution to a Theology of Religion and Culture” Didaskalia (Otterburne, Man.) 9, no. 2 (Spr 1998), 63.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Nikolaos A. Matsoukas, “The Economy of the Holy Spirit: the Standpoint of Orthodox Theology,” Ecumenical Review 41, no. 3 (Jl 1989),  399.

[18] Pinnock, Flame of Love, 73-74.

Flame of Love: A book review

July 25, 2008

**Disclaimer: This is copied and pasted from a paper and as such sounds much more heady.** 

 As Pinnock sees it, “Western Christianity has confined the Spirit to the margins of the church and subordinated it to the mission of the Son.” [1]  However, the Spirit, “called the Paraclete in John’s gospel…is personal agent teacher and friend.”[2]  In his first chapter, “Spirit & Trinity,” Pinnock lays out what is seems to be the foundation for his pneumatology: the “social trinity” where “God is constituted by three subjects, each of whom is distinct from the others and is the subject of its own experiences in the unity of one divine life.”[3]  Moving on to discuss what this might look like, Pinnock writes about Spirit in Creation, which will be discussed more in a different post, as well as Spirit and Christology.  This is a most interesting chapter in that it highlights the obvious oversight on much of Western Christianity with respect to the interaction between Son and Spirit.  In the opening for this chapter, Pinnock states “The title ‘Christ’ itself signifies anointing—in this case by the Spirit.”[4]  While this is somewhat obvious, it seems to be something that is commonly overlooked by scholars and laity alike.  It seems as though the paradox of the Trinity is too much for our minds to handle and so despite the acceptance of God as Triune, we continue to split the Trinity to help communicate our ideas about the members of the Trinity.  But “Christology must not lack for pneumatology.”[5]

In his chapter ‘Spirit and Church,’ Pinnock opens with discussion of how to view the church saying, “Let us see it as a continuation of the Spirit-anointed event that was Jesus Christ.”[6]  Just as Christ was anointed by the Spirit, so the church was anointed by the Spirit at Pentecost and is “dependent on the power of the Spirit just as Jesus was.”[7]  And so are people as individuals.  While it is true that a salvation or conversion experience results in change in status from guilty to not guilty, the emphasis on this aspect of salvation has left a rift in the whole point of that change in status: namely, union with God that is now possible via the Spirit.[8]

After his chapter on ‘Spirit and Union,’ Pinnock goes into slightly murkier waters and takes the concept of union further by tackling the idea of Universality.  “The Spirit meets people not only in religious spheres but everywhere,”[9] he says.  Would a gracious and loving God send someone to hell that lived a God honoring life even if they didn’t know God’s name?  After all, Paul praises the Athenians for their worship of an unknown god and goes on to explain to them who this known God really is (cf. Acts 17:23).  Lastly Pinnock discusses the concept of ‘Spirit and Truth.’  He opens with the statement, “A theology that does not inquire after God’s will for the present may be orthodox but is not really listening to God.”[10]  While some may find this statement somewhat dangerous, Pinnock goes on to say that “doctrines are to be timely witnesses, not timeless abstractions.”[11]  This seems to be a healthy challenge for those who are engaged in theology, since “fidelity and creativity are both called for.”[12]

[1] Clark H. Pinnock, Flame of Love: A Theology of the Holy Spirit, (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 1996), 10.

[2] Ibid., 35.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid., 79.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid., 113.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid., 149.

[9] Ibid., 187.

[10] Ibid., 215.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

Authority of Scripture

April 5, 2008

Does the authority of scripture rest with the words on the page or the Spirit that inspired them?  I think maybe the answer is not “either/or” but “both/and.”  What do you think?