Thursday, February 8, 2018

TTT #4 The Holy Spirit is God’s Universal Presence in the World and is Not Limited to Those Who Know Jesus

Christians have traditionally understood God as being “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” The first two chapters of Thirty True Things Everyone Needs to Know Now [TTT] were about the “Father,” and the previous one was about Jesus Christ, the “Son.” Now we turn our attention to the enigmatic “Holy Spirit.”
Grasping at the Wind
Trying to understand the Holy Spirit is like grasping at the wind—and, indeed, the Hebrew word ruach and the Greek word pneuma can be translated “breath” or “wind” as well as “spirit.”
Some Christians tend to think of the Holy Spirit being active in the world only after the resurrection of Jesus. This is largely because of Jesus’ promise of the coming Spirit (such as in John 15:26) and the events recorded in the second chapter of Acts.
There are many references to the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament, however, and some even think that the first reference to the Spirit is in Genesis 1:2. (Is it the Spirit, or just the wind, moving over the waters in the creation story?) 
The Church’s creed of A.D. 381 spoke of the Holy Spirit proceeding “from the Father.” But in the sixth century, the Church in the West added one (Latin) word: filioque (“and the Son”).
That word became a point of division between the Church in the West (Roman Catholicism) and the Church in the East (Eastern Orthodox). But the eminent German Lutheran theologian Jϋrgen Moltmann rejects the addition of filioque—and for good reason (see his The Spirit of Life, 1992).
The Holy Spirit is linked from the beginning to the eternal Word (Logos), and not just to Jesus.
The Go-Between God
John V. Taylor, a distinguished Anglican missionary and theologian, was the author of the seminal book The Go-Between God (1963). Taylor convincingly contends that all of creation is a result of the movement of the Spirit and everything is related to God because of the Spirit.
That certainly doesn’t mean that everyone is aware of their relationship to the Spirit. But the Spirit is aware of everyone!
Here again we are confronted with the problem of the universal and the particular—and again I agree with Taylor when he avers that “the Holy Spirit is universally present through the whole fabric of the world, and yet uniquely present in Christ and, by extension, in the fellowship of his disciples” (pp. 180-1; italics in the original).
The Holy Spirit, we might say, leaves footprints of God all over the world, and people from all ages and in all parts of the world, to varying degrees, see those tracks.
The Spirit of Truth and of Freedom
Three times in the Gospel of John we find the words “the Spirit of truth,” and also according to John, Jesus declared that “the truth shall set you free.” Further, the Apostle Paul also declares that “the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (1 Cor. 3:17).
In the first chapter, I indicated that “all truth is God’s truth.” It can also be asserted that because of the Spirit, all freedom is God’s freedom. Thus, the work of the Spirit can be linked to the core assertions of the theologians of liberation.
Black theologian James Cone, for example, avers that “God’s revelation in Jesus Christ is identical with the presence of his Spirit in the slave community in struggle for the liberation of humanity” (God of the Oppressed, rev. ed., p. 181).
Thank God that the Spirit, known uniquely through Jesus Christ, can also be known universally throughout the whole world!

[Please click here to read the entire fourth chapter of TTT.]


  1. I am not sure I followed the logic to your conclusion. Many heresies have developed within the Church over the nature of God. Being more orthodox in orientation, I lean toward the ecumenical gathering of Bishops in Council with the Holy Spirit for insight. The Filioque was not added to the Creed in Ecumenical Council. Neither was "Liberation". Neither was the incarnation of the Holy Spirit at the Immaculate Conception of Mary, as some Catholics have stated.

    We must beware of novel doctrines wherever they originate. The "Catholic" branch of the Church has introduced many, but so have Protestants.

    "...and in the Holy Spirit, The Lord, the Giver of life, Who proceeds from the Father, Who with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified, Who spoke through the prophets; and in one holy catholic and apostolic Church...", part of the creedal statement given us by the Council at Nicea - not the sum of all there is to know, but a good foundation. We certainly could use another ecumenical Council...

    1. The statement you quoted in your last paragraph is not from the Nicene Creed of 325 but from the "Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed" adopted at the Second Ecumenical Council held in Constantinople in 381. It was a modification/amplificaiton of the original Nicene Creed.

      It was the wording of the 381 creed that I referred to and, in agreement with J. Moltmann, my conclusion was based on the implications of that creed and in rejection of the "filioque" addition, which was not (as you said) added by an Ecumenical Council.

  2. Thinking Friend Dan O'Reagan in Louisiana sent me the following important comments by email:

    "Thanks, Leroy. I am sorry, but the works and words of the theologians, don't measure up to the authority of the written word of God. In John 14:26, Jesus said that He would pray the Father, and the Father would send the Holy Spirit. In John 16:7, Jesus said that He would send the Holy Spirit. So, both the Father and Son "send" the Holy Spirit for his mission on earth. For it to be any other way diminishes the teaching and importance of the Triune God. For me, that settles all arguments as to where the Holy Spirit comes from.

    "You are right that both the Hebrew word for spirit and the Greek word spirit can also be translated wind or breath. In such cases, we can find out the meaning from the context, and the modifiers to the word, spirit. One such adjective modifier is the word Holy. If spirit or wind or breath have the word Holy before them, there can be no doubt as to who or which one is meant. Without the word Holy, everybody is free to argue, speculate, guess, and wonder as he may choose.

    "I am currently writing a book entitled, 'Rushing Winds: Revivals In The New Testament.' I spend a lot of time on the Person, Work, and Experience with the Holy Spirit. Way back there, when I first began my 65 year preaching ministry, I preached a series of 17 sermons on the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit, who He is, what He does, and how to experience Him in the daily life have been topics and experiences I have thought about and prayed about for many years.

    "I am more interested in experiencing the Holy Spirit in my daily life than I am in trying to understanding the incomprehensible. I am more interested in the practical than I am the theoretical."

    1. Dan, thanks for reading and responding to this morning's blog article. I appreciate what you wrote and your emphasis on the practical. I have no quarrel at all with what you wrote in your last paragraph.

      But I do have some problem with what you wrote in your first paragraph. I acknowledge the importance of the verses you cited, but those are not the only verses in the Bible about the Holy Spirit. In addition to many references to the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament, according to Luke 1:35, the angel Gabriel told Mary, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you . . . ." So here is the problem I have with what you wrote: How did Jesus send the Holy Spirit if his own birth was due to the instrumentality of Holy Spirit?

      If you read the whole chapter of TTT #4, you will see that I emphasize the coming of the Spirit in a special way upon the Church after the Resurrection. That coming of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost--and in the revivals in New Testament and throughout history in the centuries since--is, of course, true and of tremendous importance. But it is not all of the story.

      My article does not negate anything you affirm in your comments. But I contend we need a broader, more inclusive view of the Spirit. So let me commend, again, Taylor's book: its subtitle is "The Holy Spirit and the Christian Mission."

  3. I much appreciate the kind words from local Thinking Friend Larry Guillot:

    "Count me among those who appreciate your sharing of your updated TTT, although I wish I/we did not have to wait the year to see it in full form.

    "It is helpful, impressive, and humble, to look at the big picture of life's mysteries and Christian revelation, and centuries of reflection and discussion, and say: this is what I believe and hold--and why.

    "THANK YOU."

  4. Thinking Friend Glenn Hinson in Kentucky writes,

    "I like that, Leroy. Luke’s Christology is pneumatic Christology rather than Logos-christology. The Holy Spirit filled his life and enabled him to do the miraculous things he did. The Acts of the Apostles accented even more the universal aspect of the Spirit."

  5. Thanks, Leroy. I appreciate your expansion of the understanding of the Holy Spirit in Christian theology.

  6. Once again I received notification of comments posted here--but they were not here when I came to read them. So here are comments written yesterday by local Thinking Friend Craig Dempsey:

    "In California there is a park with the mouthful of a name of Westport-Union Landing State Beach. We camp there on most coastal trips to enjoy the privilege of sleeping on the bluff directly above the beach, listening to the surf below. Mornings there are usually foggy, while afternoons are often windy with wildly dancing clouds. Sunsets are different every evening, and we enjoy sitting in our camp chairs, experiencing the splendor. We often discuss the Spirit of God moving upon the face of the waters. Rarely is a sacred experience so in-your-face!

    "Some years ago California nearly shut down the park as it sought to balance its budget after the Great Recession. Scouring the internet to see if it was going to be open for our next trip, I discovered the park sat on land that had long been sacred to local native Americans. A local band had free camping rights there as part of their agreement with the state for the park. They agreed to assist the state in maintaining the park, and thus saved the park from closing. So we get to keep camping there. I really do not think God cares much whether one prays to the Great Spirit or the Holy Spirit. If God did have to chose, I do not think my drive-by prayers would rank very high against their thousands of years of worship. We watch the same sunset. We feel the same wind upon our faces. I think that is part of God's message to us.

    "In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus asks us 'Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake?' (Matthew 7:9-10) People around the world are not that different. Governments and religions often stir up differences, but deep inside we are very similar. Even science tells us that, we squirm a bit to hear that human and chimpanzee DNA are 99 percent identical. Even more relevant, all human DNA is 99.9 percent identical. The differences we see are very little of what we are. Something we share with flu DNA. Flu DNA causes problems because the outer shell of the flu virus keeps changing, hiding the consistent inner mechanisms that makes us sick. Spirit moves around us and within us, bringing healing to wounded souls."

    1. Thanks, Craig, for your meaningful musings about the Spirit!