Having been raised in various Pentecostal churches, and attending an Assemblies of God church into my mid-twenties, it seems ironic that the theology of the Holy Spirit seems so foreign and unfamiliar to me. Growing up, language about “the Holy Ghost” and “the Holy Spirit” was nearly as commonplace as references to Jesus. But the implications of those references were limited and vague. “What does the Holy Spirit do?” The Holy Spirit speaks to us, tells us how to live and what choices to make, and “it” blesses us with gifts like glossolalia, prophesy and healing. “Who is the Holy Spirit?” That question was a little more complicated. We didn’t pray to the Holy Spirit… I don’t even think I prayed to Jesus, come to think of it. I prayed to God the Father. Implicit even in this was the hierarchical dominance of the Father as the “head” of the Trinity. “Father” in many ways was synonymous with God, while Jesus was the Son of God, and the Spirit was… something else.
Stanley Grenz’s book Created for Community discussed in depth the function of the Spirit as it empowers the social nature of the Trinity. But this does not deal specifically with who the Holy Spirit is. Clark Pinnock explains we must “begin with the identity of the Spirit as a divine Person in a social Trinity and with the sheer liveliness of God… We start with the identity of the triune God and with the face of the Spirit within this community as the ecstasy of life.” Pinnock points out, however, that contemporary theologians often fail to make such meaning intelligible to lay Christians, or pragmatic to the Christian life.
inuity with more traditional, orthodox denominations.
Pentecostalism represents a grassroots spiritual movement rather than a novel theological construction. It has not so much produced new theology as a new kind of spirituality and aggressive evangelism methods. Therefore, it has provoked controversy at almost every stage of its development.
Without a firm theological construct to explain and locate itself within a broader Christian context, such spirituality can too easily become a destabilizing force. Just as important: without strong foundations in Trinitarian orthodoxy, understanding of the Holy Spirit’s connection to the Father/Mother/Creator can be manipulated for modern cultural agendas. Kevin Giles explains, “the contemporary conservative evangelical case for the permanent subordination
of women frequently asserts that the Son is eternally subordinated to the Father.” Giles’ argument extends into the parallel relationship between Father and Spirit. Rather than a prisoner to normative culture, Giles explains that the Spirit transcends fleeting human morals, and proceeds forward, powering an evolving awareness of God’s love:
On the matter of slavery, virtually all contemporary evangelicals deny the tradition… They begin with the altogether modern idea that slavery is an evil. If slavery is evil, they conclude, it cannot be endorsed in the Bible because the Bible cannot legitimate what is evil. The problem is that the tradition gives no support to such an idea. Until the latter half of the eighteenth century, virtually every theologian held that the Bible regulated and legitimated slavery… It was only when cultural values changed as God’s work in history moved forward that human beings for the first time came to see that slavery must be rejected and opposed. In this new social context teaching hitherto passed over in Scripture came to the fore: all people are made in the image of God, all are loved by God, all are to be set free in Christ. As a result, this change in culture led to a change in theology. The tradition was rejected and new ways of interpreting relevant biblical passages emerged.
Reading Giles’ book, it is easy to continually make parallels between the culturally-informed subordination of black slaves and women, and the contemporary marginalization of LGBT people today. As cultural values change (as God’s work in history moves forward) human beings have begun to see that the condemnation and marginalization of homosexuals must be rejected and opposed. To use Giles’ words, such tradition should be rejected, and new ways of interpreting relevant biblical passages must emerge. In many denominations worldwide, including my own United Church of Christ, this has occurred. We affirm and even ordain LGBTQ people, along with the ELCA Lutheran Church, the Episcopal Church, and the PCUSA Presbyterian Church, among others. Yet Giles makes a seemingly impassioned d
efense against such an association at the end of his book, explaining why he doesn’t make the logical jump to human sexuali
ty. His defense appears much more political than theological, as he seems compelled to measure and limit the implications of the previous 270 pages he’s written. I’m reminded of the ways Martin Luther opposed and undermined the movement he began, when they crossed the lines of what he deemed “acceptable” protest against Roman Catholic teaching and praxis. T
hat opposition even led to his affirmation of the persecution and murder of countless “Protestant” peasants of Luther’s day. Luther wanted to heed the Spirit’s call for change, but only the change he personally recognized as relevant and necessary. Still, the Holy Spirit proceeded forth.
It’s impossible to be certain of the Holy Spirit’s specific direction and prophetic manifestation, as so many Christians and so many “prophets” oppose each other’s conclusions. But I believe now, more than ever, that the Holy Spirit is present and active in the world, and working to reconcile all things to God’s self.
My favorite explanation of the Holy Spirit is from Denis Edwards, who describes the Holy Spirit as the Breath of God:
[The Spirit] can be thought of as breathing life into the universe in all its stages: into its laws and initial conditions, its origin and its evolution… The Spirit enables the emergence of the new at
every stage from the first nuclei of hydrogen and helium, to atoms, galaxies, the Sun, bacterial forms of life, complex cells the wonderfully diverse forms of life on Earth, and human beings who can think and love and praise.
There is frustrating mystery and ambiguity as we explore the nature of God, Spirit and Trinity. Even more frustrating: the manipulation and power-grabbing that too often comes with this endeavor. May we all continue evolving together, by the transcendent and immanent power of the Holy Spirit.
 Clark H. Pinnock, Flame of Love: A Theology of the Holy Spirit (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 1996), 22.
 Veli-Matti Karkkainen, Pneumatology: The Holy Spirit in Ecumenical, International and Contextual Perspective (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 67.
 Vatican II marked a turn in the Roman Catholic Church’s pneumatology and spiritual praxis, leading to the Charismatic Renewal of the 1960s. That renewal has been affirmed by three contemporary popes, but it remains a minority movement within the broader church.
 Karkkainen, Pneumatology, 90.
 Kevin Giles, Trinity and Subordinationism: The Doctrine of God and the Contemporary Gender Debate (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2002), 23.
 Giles, Trinity and Subordinationism, 8.
 Denis Edwards, Breath of Life: A Theology of the Creator Spirit (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2004), 43-44.