The Holy Spirit

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The Spirit is powerful, dangerous, and unpredictable in the Scriptures. People get swept up on missions they didn’t predict.  People speak as they didn’t know they could, or come to see things they could never have on their own.  People find the courage to stand up in the face of certain death.  It ‘blows where it will,’ says Jesus.

And when it comes to doctrine, the Spirit has been described as the ‘shy’ member of the Trinity (Bruner), always pointing away from itself on toward Christ.  We are not to focus on it, but on that it points toward. But in so doing it shows itself consistent with the loving, outward-turned nature of God Himself. 

The best we can do is simply to list some of the true things that we can say about the Spirit. It cannot be defined in some manner other than the Trinitarian definition itself, given its self-effacing and yet encompassing reality.

  1. Anyone who says ‘Jesus is Lord’ does so by the Spirit. (I Corinthians 12:3). Hence it is poured out in this age on all who believe in Him.
  2. The power of God suffusing His creation is the Spirit.
  3. The Spirit raises us up into the Kingdom of God even now. (Joel 2:28ff.)
  4. There are special gifts of the Spirit like tongues or prophecy, but the virtues are its most important gifts.
  5. The best sign of its presence is charity. (I Corinthians 13).
  6. It is also the force that is a ‘go-between’ bringing the reconciliation that is a sign of God’s own nature. So says the mission theologian, J.V.Taylor.
  7. As such it may also be described as that ‘freshness…deep down things,’ in a world, and in souls, otherwise worn out.

But the Spirit is only all of this because it is already and eternally so in the Godhead.  So, it appears prominently at the very beginning and the very end of the Bible.

Read the poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins, ‘God’s Grandeur.’

The Son

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 On two questions the universal Church has definitive dogma, which is to say, it has defined two questions ‘everywhere, at all times, and by all’ (called the ‘Vincentian Canon’).  They really answer the same question, ‘who is Jesus Christ?’ though one answers it with respect to the doctrine of God itself, and the other by a more narrow angle, with respect to His person.  The definitions go like this: God Himself is one God in three persons, the Son eternally ‘begotten’, that is, related to his Father in God Himself.  The second definition is that Jesus Christ is one person, one agent of thought and action, who is both the Second Person of the Trinity and the man Jesus. In neither case can you think of parts or division, but rather of distinction.   We know both to be true, though how they are so exceeds our understanding.

While it is no substitute for the traditional answers the Church has offered, the fondness of our era for the idea of story, of narrative, as a way to describe who someone is, can help us here. Take the Bible as the human story from its origins in eternity to its conclusion there as well. Now think of that story as on one hand the story of God, in Himself and in relation to His world. Consider John 1 as the key to this expansive story: ‘in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…’ This story, of God’s love for the world, of His prophetic Word, finds its perfection and its climax in the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. God sovereign, but also intimately involved.  But the Bible is also the story of the human beings as the crown, and also the tragedy, of God’s creative work.  The human obedient to God, the human faithful and self-giving in love- this may finally be seen in Jesus Christ. 

The narrative of God Himself, and with His world, and the narrative of the human being in response to Him- both converge in one person Jesus Christ. His one story is may be read in both of these ways.

Read the Athanasian Creed. How does it tell us who Jesus is and who Jesus isn’t.


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