Our incomplete theology

Notes on Francis Chan’s
Forgotten God
Chapter 3: Theology of the Holy Spirit 101

“I’m reading this book by Francis Chan called Forgotten God–”

Forgotten God?” my dad quizzed.

I described the thesis of the book as I understand it now: Chan believes that Christians have “forgotten” the third person of the Trinity and need to remember Him again.

“I think he’s right.” Dad replied–and went on to tell me that he’d just been thinking that same thing in relation to the Nicene Creed. He quoted the pertinent passage:

“And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father and the Son; who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets.”

And I thought, “Huh, yeah. He’s right.”

When was the last time I heard a sermon on the Holy Spirit–on who He is, not just what He does? I have no idea. When was the last time I heard a hymn of adoration to the Holy Spirit? I can’t remember. My church does not publicly recite the creeds, so I know it has been years since I heard or recited the Nicene creed.

This fundamental confession of our faith declares that the Holy Spirit is the Lord and Giver of life–and that He is worshiped and glorified together with the Father and Son–but I see little evidence that the church accords the Spirit the same adoration that they do the Father and the Son.

I remember one particular year where I found myself in a liturgical church on Pentecost Sunday. My own church is not liturgical and pays no mind to the liturgical calendar except for lighting advent candles (frequently in the wrong order, although I try to refrain from being nit-picky)–so I know better than to expect a Pentecost sermon on Pentecost there. But in a liturgical church, I had high hopes of hearing a true Pentecost sermon–a sermon on the Holy Spirit. Sure enough, the readings were rife with mention of the Holy Spirit. My anticipation mounted for the sermon–and then was quickly dashed when the pastor mentioned the Holy Spirit exactly…never…in his sermon. Forgotten God is right.

Recently, I was visiting the website of some churches in my area–and I found a “statement of faith” that quoted from Mike Yaconelli of Youth Worker Magazine from Nov/Dec 2003:

“We’re about Jesus. We know He’s a part of the Trinity and all the other important stuff we also believe, but if we’re honest, we’re partial to Jesus. Don’t get us wrong. God is like a Father-no, God IS the Father-and the buck stops with Him (if you’re going to have the buck stop somewhere it might as well stop with Someone who is…well…all about love with a capital L. Of course, He’s also about justice with a capital J, but we’ll take out chances that, in the end, justice will also feel like love!) And then there is the Holy Spirit-mysterious, windy, seems to like fire a lot, whispering, and always pointing us to…you guessed it…Jesus. We not only like Jesus a lot, He likes us a lot, enough to die for us. We know that when life gets tough (and it always does) He’ll be there for us.

I was absolutely shocked by the way this “statement of faith” treated the Holy Spirit. Mysterious, windy, pyromaniac whisperer who points at Jesus? Honestly? I understand that within the original context, this likely (hopefully) was never intended to be a distillation of belief about the Trinity. Yet I don’t doubt that this is the essence of many a Christian’s beliefs regarding the Holy Spirit.

Even as I look at my own church’s statement of faith–I see discussion of the Holy Spirit, but more in reference to the “baptism of the Holy Spirit” than in regard to WHO the Holy Spirit truly is.

It’s a hole in our theology. The word theology strictly means theos-God, -logy-study. The study of God. Yet we study the Father, we glorify the Son, and we forget about the Holy Spirit–or at best, turn Him into little more than a cosmic gift-giver. We’ve got an incomplete theology–only two-thirds formed. The Christian God is a triune God. Why then do we not include all three persons of the Trinity in our theology?

Seeing a hole in our theology makes me glad that Chan chooses not to jump right into the “practice” of the Holy Spirit–into charismata or the “baptism of the Holy Spirit” or even the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit that accompanies Christian witness. Instead, Chan takes the time to establish a basic (although non-comprehensive) theology of the Holy Spirit–both who He is and what He does.

Some of Chan’s main points:

  • The Holy Spirit is a person
  • The Holy Spirit is God
  • The Holy Spirit is eternal and holy
  • The Holy Spirit has His own mind, and He prays for us
  • The Holy Spirit has emotions
  • The Holy Spirit has His own desires and will
  • The Holy Spirit is omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient

It seems to me that we can easily fall into a trap of either ignoring the Holy Spirit entirely or considering Him as a means to our own ends. Either way, we tend to deny Him His deity.

My heart, then, is to reverse this trend–starting with myself. I want to know the Holy Spirit so that I might worship and glorify Him together with the Father and the Son.

I love the description Chan gives of why the Christian should be interested in the theology of the Holy Spirit:

“Know that even as you seek to understand the Spirit more, He is so much more and bigger than you will ever be able to grasp. This is not an excuse to stop seeking to know Him, but don’t limit Him to what you can learn about Him. The point is not to completely understand God but to worship Him. Let the very fact that you cannot know Him fully lead you to praise Him for His infiniteness and grandeur.”

Why should I develop my theology of the Holy Spirit? In order that I might worship Him–and the entire Trinity–more fully.

(See more notes on Forgotten God here.)

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