Tuesday 14 June 2011

Is the Holy Spirit God?

Gregory of Nazianzus
That's the question posed by perichoresis enthusiast Ted Johnston over at his Surprising God blog. No surprise what answer he comes up with. I couldn't care less whether the HS is ascribed personhood or not: you could argue it a dozen ways back and forth simply by finessing the language.

What interests me are the reasons Ted gives: (1). The Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit is God; and (2). Knowing that the Holy Spirit is God, assures us.

To point one. Parts of the New Testament might possibly be construed as hinting that the Spirit is God. Other parts are easily construed to indicate that he/she/it most certainly isn't. If the Good Book clearly taught that the Good Spirit is God, how come it took centuries to articulate that doctrine and give it a name?

Let's put it on comparative timelines. The church is usually thought to have launched around 33 CE. Here's what that venerable, conservative Oxford authority Alister McGrath has to say on the subject.
[P]atristic writers were hesitant to speak openly of the Spirit as "God," in that this practice was not sanctioned by Scripture... Even as late as 380, Gregory of Nazianzus conceded that many Orthodox Christian theologians were uncertain as to whether to treat the Holy Spirit "as an activity, as a creator, or as God."
Too bad Ted wasn't around back then to set them all right.

Now let's drop in the timeline. 33 through to 380. With a little help from a calculator, or even a trusty pencil and paper algorithm, even Ted should be able to subtract 33 from 380. By my quick calculation that's 347 (three hundred and forty seven) years. Even if we chop off twenty years to allow for Athanasius' prime years of ill-tempered ranting, the figure is still three and a quarter centuries.

Now, here we all are in 2011. Let's put this in some kind of context. How far back from today would 347 years take us?


Yes Virginia, if poor old Gregory was bemoaning the lack of consensus on the Trinity today, we'd be looking at a period of 325-347 odd years - since the 1600s - in which this "Bible understanding" had failed to carry the day among Christians. Simply saying "the Bible teaches it" and tossing in a bouquet of potted proof texts apparently didn't convince them either in 380, or any time before, and it certainly doesn't sound particularly persuasive now. I can think of nicely selected proof texts that "prove" God is a binitarian or unitarian entity too.

Ted's second reason? Well, as with so much Ted writes, I have only the foggiest idea about what he means.
Scripture tells us that the Holy Spirit indwells us. This declaration gives us great assurance when we understand that the Holy Spirit is God in person. Indeed, God himself is with us! He does not merely send us a "force" or "power."
Okay, a warm fuzzy. But hey, this is semantics. In fact if you take it to its logical (or illogical) conclusion it just reverts to mush. "Knowing that the Holy Spirit is God, assures us..." of what? Possibly that "he" is a pretty ineffectual chunk of the godhead, given "his" track record doing this "indwelling" thing.

I'm not trying to be offensively "anti" Trinitarian. In fact I'm happy to use the language of the Trinity as a normative metaphor (which is all it can be). Some very fine Christians are thoroughgoing Trinitarians. Most of them, though, would be embarrassed by Ted's facile little attempt to justify it. On the first count Ted is just plain wrong. On the second he is fuzzily incoherent.

McGrath quote from Christian Theology: An Introduction (fourth edition), Blackwell Publishing, 2007, p.238.


  1. Here's a take on the Holy Spirit that makes more sense that Johnston's description does:

    Shekinah, the feminine word in Jewish tradition that describes the 'settling presence of God.'


    >>After the service, I sat with one of my favorite parishioners, Miz Eula Jefferson. As we ate our marvelous feast, we shared some small talk about the kids playing jump rope and baseball - and, my, hasn't he gotten tall, and isn't she so pretty - when Ms. Jefferson zeroed in on me.

    "Lemme ax you a question, Rev," she said in her South Carolinian drawl.

    "Sure," I said.

    "So, do you believe all that stuff we just sang in there?"

    "I'm not sure what you mean," I said.

    "Oh, you know, 'bout the Holy Spirit?"

    "Well, yes, m'am. I mean... I'm not sure what you're asking, Ms. Jefferson."

    She smiled and shifted her weight in the folding chair that was shifting in the soft grass of the church lawn.

    I should have known by her smile that I was in trouble.

    "Well," she said, "I don't mean no offense, and mebe it's just me, but in my experience - and you'll 'scuse my french - White People don't know shit about the Holy Spirit."<<

  2. Amen Sista!

    Oh that is so funny and insightful...

  3. What with all those other people living within me, God Most High, Jesus and the Holy Ghost, it's getting awful crowded in here.

    Am I to expect hearing voices yet? Should I look to having multiple personalities take over? Will I recall some of the things I did when someone else was in control? Hey, just who is in control here? Do I need to take meds for this? Is my mind really my own? Should I be concerned? Is the Holy Ghost responsible for manic moments? How long will it take before I'm stable enough for the psychiatric facility to let me leave? And why do I have to shovel all my money to religious cult leaders who tell me stuff that makes no sense, let alone being totally unscriptural?

    I'm not certain there are good answers for these things.

    Ask a candid question; get canned answers.

  4. I swear, I swear, I swear, that one day I'm going to write a book entitled "Christianity: What We Believe" filled with nothing more that the answers to a questionnaire sent out to all the various sects/denominations/cults/etc.

    Just so the whole world can know what most skeptics already know. There is NO CONSENSUS on even the basic doctrinal issues that you think would be fundamental to all.

    Here's the starting list.

    1. What is the reward of the saved?
    2. What is the punishment of the wicked?
    3. Was Jesus God, Man, or Both?
    4. Is God a Triune Being?
    5. What is Salvation?

    And, on it goes.

  5. "He does not merely send us a "force" or "power.""



    Spoken as only the most deceived of the most worldly of people could speak, who clearly has never had that "force" or "power" acting in his life, else he would not refer to it as merely!!

    I think Ezra's prayer should be on the lips of all (any?) of the truly faithful, who remain (steadfast) within Grace Communion International, or even the splinter groups of the WCG.

    It is not for us to judge, that they are committing the unpardonable sin; there is another Judge before Whom they must answer, for that. But the fact that they are no longer trembling in fear and awe of that judgement, for their terrible sin...well. It speaks volumes, doesn't it?

  6. Scripture describes three aspects or manifestations of God. 1) Father God, the one known by His covenant name YWHW to the Israelites. 2) Jesus Christ, YHWH's Son, and our Savior. 3) The Holy Spirit.

    Any attempt at defining these automatically imposes human limitations on them. However, failing to understand the proper nature and role of any of the three, regardless as to whether we use the word "trinity", can lead to grave error.

    I've often pointed out that failure to understand the interactive nature of the Holy Spirit led to HWA's authoritative "government from the top down", which actually usurped the profound role of the HS in the lives of individuals, and turned the WCG ministry into a police force as opposed to being spiritual guides. It is perfectly obvious that the HS is not with a group which continues to splinter now that HWA's legendary temper is no longer present to keep all in line.


  7. All kinds of people from all kinds of churches claim to have the indwelling of the holy spirit. Funny that none of them happen to agree with each other, the spirit obviously being divided along denominational lines.

    A person may as well claim to have the indwelling of spirit of Baal, either one is impossible to prove. At least we know that the Pentecostal folks have the indwelling holy spirit - 'cause they speak in tongues (wink-wink).

    While we're on it, what's the difference between the "indwelling" of a spirit and "possession" of a spirit? Possessed by Azazel or possessed by Yahweh, and how can you tell the difference? And, how do you "try the spirits"?

    Mumbo Jumbo and not far removed from witchcraft is spirit possession. But wait, the spirit gifts were done away (I Cor. 13) so then, as he said, knowledge (the guidance of the spirit into all knowledge) also vanished away.

    So, since the spirit guidance and gifts are gone, how can one lay claim to possession of the holy spirit? And how would one know that what they are really in possession of isn't a purely emotional spirit of their own mind?

  8. The problem with Western language is that is all founded on Greek logic where we describe entity relationships based on on separateness from one another.

    The thinking presumes from the start, that God is separate from the created man and universe.

    But scripture, being what it is, is consistently inconsistent. It also informs us on the omnipresence and immanence of God.
    This is where binary logic fails humanity, it tends to cast choices to the extremes and throw out the middle possibility. The law of the excluded middle.

    There can be only one answer to this, the Spirit that animates human consciousness is the Holy Spirit. Every single consciousness and every material thing is a manifestation of God's Spirit, there's no where to go where you could escape the Spirit of God. God is everywhere.

    What has been gifted to us in this universe is free will, we can chose to align ourselves with the law of love, and serve other human beings, or we can be greedy little monsters and cause our fellow human beings no end of grief.

    We can let the love of God flow through us and be spiritually healthy, or metaphorically close the spigot and suck the life essence and happiness from everyone else.

    One choice leads to universal abundance - for God owns it all! The other leads an insane world of strife based on the zero sum game of parasite and host.

    As to what "spiritual fruits" you bear, probably depends a lot on how you all honor the "Holy Spirit" within all humans. Far easier to be screaming "he blasphes" than to consider the questions posed. In other words, correctly discerning the "body of Christ"

    Its so much easier to think of other groups as being somehow spiritually deficient than the group you prefer to associate with.
    After all they didn't read the same booklets you did, and probably didn't pay as much in tithes and offerings either, but that doesn't make them any less sons of God.

  9. "After all they didn't read the same booklets you did, and probably didn't pay as much in tithes and offerings either, but that doesn't make them any less sons of God."

    No, Zoids, the bad fruits Ted Johnston bears is that he (neither does the rest of the GCI leadership, incidentally) does not have the first clue what he is talking about, nor can he back it up scripturally (as Gavin points out in his original post).

    This is clear from watching any GCI speaker prate on for longer than a soundbite; their glazed eyes and rote repetitions, clearly indicate that they are not preaching from any place or kind of power within them (as they did once before), they are merely (yes, I said merely) saying only what they think their Dominionist puppetmasters want to hear.

    Hmmm. Seems to me, Christ had something to say about that.

    Therefore, they are willfully turning their hearts away from God, merely so they can be in "the popular crowd" of the American Evangelical (Dominionist) sect. And trying to drag the remnant of the true Church down with them, to the grave....

  10. I've heard evangelicals called a great many things - and in less charitable moments done likewise myself - but "dominionist"? Not sure how you tie that to their wagon...

    Isn't it a bit of a cop out to be an apologist for a church that, in effect, no longer exists? The WCG you remember through rose-tinted glasses has disappeared up a nether-region orifice. If it was so good, what's your excuse for not now supporting one of the better, non-abusive splinters (CoG International for example)?

  11. I'm no salesman for the GCI. But I hardly think they have dragged the remnant of the "true church" anywhere - that phrase
    "true church" has to be the most presumptious and arrogant piece of horseshit that ever fell on the Oregon trail to Pasadena. What a small God people must have to even think that?

    The GCI seems overtly to promote Karl Barth form of Calvinism (Azuza influence?), but its Torrance who gives them a chubby.

    I had an interesting conversation with minister from that group, not quite what I expected, and I admit I am jaded towards them all! They seem more Universalist at heart than they were back 1995. Still very much believers in the virgin birth thing and the trinity too. Which I am not. But the minister was honest in saying their beliefs came from the writings of Paul, not Jesus...I found that honesty breath-taking in its lack of pretense, but not the kind of thing that would make me want to join!

    The UCG has also shown signs of Universal Salvation thinking, but still actively uses the old Prophecy hooks in its ministry to the public. Its funny how much space we critics give the UCG simply because they had the guts to change the organization style. Whether the accomplish anymore than that over time remains to be seen.

    But don't expect any reunions between the two anytime soon.

  12. "But the minister was honest in saying their beliefs came from the writings of Paul, not Jesus...I found that honesty breath-taking in its lack of pretense, but not the kind of thing that would make me want to join!"

    Yikes. That's...something else, that is. Interesting to note that they're moving back towards universal salvation, though; a sign of things to come? (Obviously we will have to disagree on what "the true church" is, Zoids. Hopefully peaceably?) Actually admitting they no longer follow Christ...that's breath-taking honesty, all right.

    "If it was so good, what's your excuse for not now supporting one of the better, non-abusive splinters (CoG International for example)?"

    Short answer is this: All of the splinters, in one way or another, are reacting against GCI, instead of holding fast to the truth once delivered by WCG; and they either end up adding to or taking from that truth, or otherwise narrowing their focus to one certain part of that truth, whilst effectively ignoring the rest of it.

    I've yet to find a splinter group that holistically teaches everything the Church did, put it that way. I don't anticipate I will, either. There are signs, though, that indicate to me that I may not need to. Yes, I definitely could be wrong, I'm not saying that's for certain or for sure. But it does seem logical, given certain things that I have read, over the years.

    In all honesty, if I was going to go back to church, it would have to be GCI (despite, or in spite of, the paganism). Unfortunately, or fortunately, I've burned my bridges with the pastor for my area, and so have to proceed as God leads me....