We Believe: Pneumatology

Pneumatology is definitely one of the more neglected domains of systematic theology. This will be a long post with a few sub-discussions. Here’s Bruxy’s main message:


The filioque stuff is very interesting. That’s the first division in Christian history (500 years later, Protestants came along and we’ve all protested each other ever since). Why was it such a big deal? To some degree it wasn’t that big of a deal; the East and the West already functioned mostly independently with different leadership and different languages. This one was more of a final straw than it was a make or break issue in and of itself. Bruxy also pointed out one element I didn’t really consider when looking at the history, though: that the West changed what was supposed to be a universal creed without even bothering to ask the East what they thought. That kind of lack of respect does often lead to divisions.

The actual question, though, gets back to some ideas about the hierarchy of the Trinity. I talked about this a bit in discussion of the Trinity. Not by coincidence, most people who believe in stronger hierarchies between categories of human – by race, by gender, by age, by theological education, whatever – are more likely to have some hierarchical understanding of the Trinity. Similarly, I and my belief in the equality of all humans tend to throw out the hierarchy entirely – thank you Pentecostals for moving theology in that direction.

Limiting to the West vs East options, though, I tend to side more with the East. Bruxy pictured the West having the Son along with the Father on the top, but I think the better graphic would be putting them in a line: the Father sends out the Son, the Son and the Father sends out the Spirit, then add the Church underneath that for Catholics or the Bible for Protestants. Each one is essentially treated as a mediator toward the next up the line. The East maintained a bit more value on the Spirit, in my opinion, still being sent out by the Father but at least having more of a role than just pointing us to Jesus.

To put it another way I’ve spoken of it before, the East for the most part has maintained a functional Trinity of Father-Son-Spirit. The West largely relegated the Spirit to inspiring the institutional Church so the Trinity became more like like Father-Son-Church for Catholicism. Protestants rebelled against that, replacing Church with the Bible, but the Spirit was still largely relegated to inspiring the Bible. Pentecostals eventually came along and blew that whole thing up, more like the East but even less hierarchy and practically more in terms of charismatic gifts instead of mysticism.

The Spirit the Rule Breaker

Bruxy doesn’t spend long on it, but definitely my favourite part of the sermon was the brief discussion of how the Spirit is pretty much the enemy of anyone who clings to control. This is why theologies from those without privilege are generally going to pay much more attention to the Spirit than those with privilege. When people mostly like me set all of the theology, we can draw lots of strict lines that maintain the status quo which conveniently benefits us. The Spirit messes with those control structures.

Today, we might think of Pentecostals as very conservative because many in the United States did shift that way after evangelicals were the only ones who would pay any attention to them in the early years. In those early years, though, they were incredibly radical, and most of the world today that are more charismatic are breaking similar boundaries. Women led alongside men. Blacks led alongside Whites and Hispanics. This was the first decade of the 20th Century. It was before women had a lot of rights. As far as I know, the only other churches to allow female leadership at all were Salvation Army where husband and wife teams led together (but not single women). Probably even more dramatic would have been watching Blacks preach to Whites 60 years before desegregation.

One of the main proofs of a Spirit-filled church in my opinion is that they are breaking down these kinds of societal walls which make any person or group superior to any other person or group. Yes, the Spirit points us to Jesus (Anabaptist focus). Yes, the Spirit gives gifts both dramatic and not-so-dramatic (Pentecostal focus). But it is also important that the Spirit leads us in breaking down the walls created by our judgementalism on an individual basis and on a systemic basis.

Theology After Party

There were a range of questions in the Drive Home as well. Here are my highlights and comments:

Female Spirit?

An interesting one to me is about whether we speak of the Holy Spirit as male or female. Like Bruxy, I agree that none of the Trinity are either male or female. Either pronoun would therefore be accurate. Traditionally, and for good biblical reasons, the Spirit tends to get spoken of the most often as female. Couple this with the Trinitarian hierarchy many believe in and you get even more reason for the Spirit to always be submissive to the two male parts of the Godhead, assuming they are willing to admit there is anything feminine about God in the first place. Bruxy only uses male language for all 3 persons. I prefer to use some of each language for all 3 because it is really easy to start thinking that if God is male, male is obviously much closer to God.

Baptism/Filling of the Holy Spirit

This is one thing I’ve never really settled on a belief about. I definitely wouldn’t say that some dramatic Holy Spirit baptism is a requirement to be a Christian, but I also don’t dispute that it could be a very real and powerful experience. Bruxy quotes Paul saying to be filled with the Spirit, which I think is better language. Maybe your gifts include dramatic charismatic experiences, or maybe they don’t. In other words, the “baptism of the Spirit” experience is a great gift for those that experience it, but we want to avoid any legalisms of making that experience mandatory.

Blaspheming the Holy Spirit

I’ve heard some weird theories on this, but the best one is that which Bruxy describes. Looking at the context, Jesus’ opponents have just claimed that everything he was doing was powered by Satan rather than God. Blaspheming the Spirit is calling what God is doing evil. This just makes sense. If you are vehemently rejecting everything about God and what she is doing, then God will honour your choice and keep her distance.

Let’s take a controversial example: same sex marriage. Some believe that God is moving to include and sanction these marriages within the church. Others believe that God is moving against this cultural movement. I think it is fair and good for both views to exist as it should drive us into dialogue about tough questions like this. Where we start getting risky, though, is when we are so confident that God cannot possibly be a part of what those who disagree with us are doing that we dismiss them entirely. In doing so, we may be playing judge over God himself, dismissing and opposing him in the process.

Ryan Robinson

It is easiest to identify Ryan as both theologian and tech guy. By day, Ryan is a Technical Consultant work with PeaceWorks Technology Solutions. There, he works on websites, CRMs, and SharePoint implementations. Along with blogging here, Ryan is a founding member of the MennoNerds blogging network and a contributor to the book A Living Alternative.