What is the Holy Spirit? How does it work in the actual world we live in? [Questioning faith #5]

Ted Grimsrud—November 14, 2022

I’ve never known how to think about the Holy Spirit, “the third person of the Trinity.” As I remember, one of my first stirrings of resistance to doctrinal orthodoxy when I was in my early 20s had to do with questioning the idea that it was meaningful to call the Holy Spirit a “person,” to think of the Holy Spirit as part of God in the same sense as Jesus and “the Father.” But I can’t say that I have spent a lot of time thinking about it or researching it.

Problems with “Holy Spirit” doctrine

It was pointed out to me in a seminary class in 1981 that there is something a bit strange in the Apostles’ Creed—at least strange if one is expecting the Creed to give us a definition of the Trinity. It starts with clear, albeit brief and rather cryptic, statements about belief in “God the Father almighty” and in “Jesus Christ, his only Son.” But when we get to the “Third Person,” all we get is this, “I believe in the Holy Spirit.” This is then followed by five beliefs that are also only mentioned, not defined. So, what does it mean to “believe in the Holy Spirit”? The original Nicene Creed of 325 also simply says “we believe … in the Holy Spirit” without explanation.

We do get more in the revised Nicene Creed of 381 (also known as the “Nicene-Constantinople Creed”). “We believe … in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life, who proceeds from the Father, who with the Father and Son together is worshiped and glorified, who spoke by the prophets.” This helps a little, especially the notion of the Holy Spirit as the “Giver of life.” That is one place that does seem to touch on what we learn from the Bible, especially Genesis 1–2 where we read of the Spirit moving over the waters at the moment of creation and of the Spirit being breathed into the dust of the earth at the creation of the first human being.

Part of my problem from early on was my sense that the idea of the Holy Spirit as a kind of doctrinal necessity (as if, for whatever reason, we need a threesome in our Christian doctrine of God to differentiate us from Judaism and Islam) did not ring true. It didn’t seem warranted from the Bible, and it was part of the making of God into a creature of dogma rather than the experience of love and relationality in life. What happened, though, was that I mainly lost interest in the Holy Spirit. It has always seemed kind of peripheral to faith, not something worth thinking about all that much.

Continue reading What is the Holy Spirit? How does it work in the actual world we live in? [Questioning faith #5]

Changing Convictions About the Holy Spirit? 1996/2011 (2)

[How, if at all, have my views about the Holy Spirit changed in the past 15 years? This is the sixth of a series of six posts on how my faith convictions have changed (or not) since I have been a college professor. Not long before leaving congregational ministry to begin teaching I did a series of sermons describing in concise terms what I understood to be key Christian beliefs. I posted an excerpt from my sermon on the Holy Spirit here. Now I will reflect on my current convictions about the Holy Spirit. Here are links to the first four posts—the first two are on my views of God 15 years ago and on present-day thoughts about God. The third and fourth are on, first, my thoughts from 15 years ago and then some current thoughts on Jesus.]

Ted Grimsrud—July 17, 2011

When I addressed convictions about the Holy Spirit in my 1996 sermon, I followed what I imagine is a common pattern. I did that sermon not so much because of any deep-seated interest that I might have had in that particular topic but mainly because I assumed one shouldn’t talk about convictions about God and Jesus without also including the Holy Spirit.

We see this pattern as far back as the Apostles’ Creed. After statements on God and Jesus that contain significant, if tightly packed, content about those two themes, the Creed turns to the Holy Spirit with a statement remarkable for how little it actually says about the Holy Spirit: “I believe in the Holy Spirit; the holy catholic church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting.”

I did say a bit more about the Holy Spirit in my sermon than the Apostles’ Creed does. I like what I said, as far as it went. But more recently, I have some more substantial thoughts. I have been trying to think more deeply about what actually our understanding of the Holy Spirit might contribute to our broader theological perspective. Rather than being a kind of add on to a theology grounded in other motifs, what if we genuinely took our understanding of the Holy Spirit as one of our generative themes? Continue reading “Changing Convictions About the Holy Spirit? 1996/2011 (2)”