Whither the Spirit?

Last quarter I took a class on pneumatology, the study of the Holy Spirit. My final paper was on proposing a pneumatological historiography. In human language, I suggested that we should look for the Holy Spirit in our historical studies and I proposed some ways to start doing that. I had about forty-two pages of stuff to say on the topic. Well, I had a whole lot more to say, meaning this might be, hopefully will be, a future book project. The quarter ended a week ago, and I got the paper back this past Wednesday. Got an A on it. So, another fruitful quarter behind me, and more work about to start up tomorrow.

Here’s my conclusion to my paper “Whither the Spirit?”:

Philosophy tends toward a binary with God and Son, often adding mentions of the Spirit as a rhetorical flair, or as a term for idealized human achievement. The recent turn towards a dialogue with Science, which seems to dominate discussion in theological studies these days makes a strong, and very encouraging, embrace of relevant fields of God’s creative power in this world, providing interesting analogies and ideas for theological reflection. However, in far too many of these discussions, the person of Jesus is extraneous, a rhetorical flair meant to “Christianize” a broadly panphysical coordination of theology and science, and in this, I might suggest offers another binarian form, that of a Father and Spirit, sans Son. It is in the study of history that we can see a truly Trinitarian revelation, and with this, such a study must continue to reorient itself along Trinitarian lines.

Such a study does not look for obvious Spirit language nor great signs of supposed miracles or mystical events. Though these may occur within a truly pneumatological moment, these cannot be seen as necessary, predominant, or even common expressions of such a movement. As shown, the reality of human history is a chaotic structure in which the work of the Spirit could be embedded in a myriad of different ways, moving in certain situations, stirring slight moods, tweaking specific moments in ways that would well be imperceptible to anyone in a given situation. Seeing the Spirit only as a publicly obvious, charismatic force inciting dramatic gifts, visions, or intense piety leaves the discussion of the Spirit off to the side in most historical situations. Thus, to look for the Spirit in history is not to become voyeurs of the Spirit. Rather, if the Spirit remains behind the scenes, we do not look for obvious moments or extraordinary events of supernatural activity. We have to instead discover the cues which point to the work of the Spirit, a work which has at its heart the fullness of God’s holistic, enlivening, salvific work as reflected in, and returning all creation back towards, the person of Christ.

This study brings with it significant challenges on both sides of history and theology. Fortunately, while these have not maintained significant dialogue, there is very helpful guidance to be found from scholars in each field, indeed too much to be properly digested in even an extended essay. More work needs to be done in more thoroughly considering the theological contributions of Pannenberg, Moltmann, and others, who have indeed suggested a robust theology of history based on the Triune God’s creative work in this world. While they have not provided significant examples of how this might be worked out, we can take valuable guidance from the many historians who have long wrestled with what it means to be a person of Christian faith working in historical studies. Alongside broader considerations of contemporary historiography it is possible to begin a more substantive development of a pneumatological history that takes seriously not only the content of God’s own revelation but also the method he has seemingly chosen to offer this revelation. It is in history that God reveals himself, and continues to reveal himself as this history presses on towards eternity.


“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.”
(2 Corinthians 3:18-19).

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