Subscribe to Christianity Today
Stephen N. Williams
Pneumatologies Have Consequences
When I was a lad, I distinctly pictured the Trinity. The Father was a broad and benign figure, remarkably like an elder in our church. The Son was younger and slimmer, as in familiar Western portrayals of a white Jesus. The Holy Spirit was about as slim, but older, bespectacled and very solemn. He was even more remarkably like the minister of our church (save for the spectacles), whose white hair epitomized holiness. The Spirit was undoubtedly the most distant of the three as befitted, no doubt, his holiness. I should not have been surprised to learn that he was rather particular and circumscribed in his sphere of his operations. All this is far removed from the connotations and impressions now frequently abroad in relation to the word Spirit. It conjures up breadth, expansiveness, and universality, not to mention life and warmth. Should it?
In its less cryptic form, the question goes: Are the significant operations of the Spirit actually confined to the church, where Christ is known and confessed, or are they present in the world, where he is certainly not confessed and, we may say, presumably not known? At least, that is the interrogative that should form in the honest and well-adjusted Christian mind. Another will prey equally on the mind of that dubious specimen, the theologian, namely: "How do you adumbrate a theology of the Holy Spirit?" Many theologians are in the business of doing that at the moment, as attested by the recently published works by Gary Badcock, Sinclair Ferguson, and Clark Pinnock. And, although we shall not do so, we could reach further back this decade to scrutinize other noteworthy studies.1
Theologians have long lived with a dual concentration on the subject with which they are engaged and their own engagement with that subject. That is, questions of theological method are regularly interwoven with matters of theological substance either in the writing or in the reading of theological works. Even when theologians in pursuit of the Spirit look ...