January 2013

This is an epilogue to my review of Najeeb Awad’s God Without a Face?: On the Personal Individuation of the Holy Spirit.  See also Part 1Part 2, Part 3, & Part 4.

As I noted in my review, Awad’s argument that we need to appreciate the personal individuation of the Spirit more fully if He is an equal member of the Trinity as the Father and the Son.  As I read last month’s CT article by Michael Reeves, “Three is the Loveliest Number”, it showed the current relevance and need for Awad’s argument.  Reeves very helpfully critiques how many (evangelicals) shy away from or even positively eschew the doctrine of the Trinity.  What is more important than God?  Shouldn’t we pursue knowing God as fully as possible, seeking the depths of his revelation of himself?  And has not God revealed himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?  These are pressing questions that many have thought too little about.  For his work on reminding the church about the center of their gospel, I commend Reeves.

However, there is one area that I would have liked Reeves to express more fully in his article, and that area is the personal individuation of the Spirit.  This is just a brief article, and so we can’t fault him for not saying everything he believes, and even more we cannot charge Reeves for having a deficient view of the Spirit based on one article.  Of course his book, which I have not read, would be a better place to assess his perspective on the Spirit.  But, in the article Reeves seems to reproduce the same lack of individuation of the Spirit vis-a-vis the Father and the Son that is stereotypical of the West.  Again, I’m not sure that we can lay the problem at the feet of Augustine as some argue, but the Spirit, at times, seems merely to be the mediating presence of love between the Father and Son.  Rather than a relationship of three persons, Reeves brief article reads more like a relationship of two persons with the Spirit as a mediator. For example he writes:

If at any time the Father did not have a Son to whom he gave his life and love, then he simply would not be a Father. To be who he is, then, this God must give out life and love. And so we begin to see why the Trinity is such good news: God is love because God is a Trinity, because for eternity this God has been giving out—positively bursting with—love for his Son.

How the Father loves and delights in his Son is something we get to see in the baptism of Jesus. There the Father declares his love for his Son and his pleasure in him as the Spirit rests on the Son like a dove. For the Spirit is the one who makes the love of the Father known, causing the Son to cry “Abba!” (see also Romans 8:15 and Galatians 4:6 for how he does the same for the adopted children of God). Thus Jesus is called “the Anointed One” (“the Messiah” in Hebrew, “the Christ” in Greek), for the Father loves, blesses, and empowers him by anointing him with his Spirit. (p. 44)

Rather than a focus on the personhood of each person, the Spirit seems to be minimized in light of the individuation of the Father and the Son.  This is not the only way Reeves represents the Spirit.  For instance, he has other statements that point to the equality of the three persons of the Trinity:

In the triune God we have a magnetically attractive God of overflowing love and radiant joy, the Father, Son, and Spirit finding their happy satisfaction and everlasting delight in each other. And since we become like what we worship, if we press in to know this God better, we will become delighted, friendly, and winsome, like our God. Just imagine what the world would make of that.  And it is not just the Christian life as such: The triune nature of God imbues all of life with a beauty it could never otherwise have. Because God is a relational God, the Father eternally knowing and loving the Son in the Spirit, relationships and love make sense.  (p. 45)

He begins with a relationship of three equal persons, but notice how the quote returns to the Father loving the Son as the focus.  Yes, that is the biblical focus in John, but can we not argue that the Father loves the Spirit in the Son or the Son loves the Spirit in the Father?  If the qualifying “in the …” makes one uncomfortable, Reeves and others would surely agree that the Father loves the Spirit, and the Son loves the Spirit, for that is (rightly) essential to his argument, so to focus repeatedly on the Father’s love for the Son appears to minimize the Spirit.

I don’t want this to be considered a strong critique of Reeves because I wish my students would all share his vision for Delighting in the Trinity.  However, Awad’s argument that we should recover the personal individuation of the Spirit is relevant to the way we delight in the Trinity.  If all three persons of the Trinity equally share in the Godhead, then let us delight in each of them.  Of course, we do not want to neglect the revelation of the Trinity in the Bible, which moves in order of focus from the Father to the Son to the Spirit, but logically our affirmation that the Spirit is God demands that we act and revere him accordingly, “who with the Father and the Son is worshiped and  glorified”.


As avid fans of the television series “Friends,” my wife and I try to incorporate clips of the show into our teaching as often as possible (science for her, Bible for me). In class today, I illustrated the Antioch Incident in Galatians 2:11-14 through the following clip (season 4, episode 11):


Baker Academic Blog has posted some videos by Greg Beale describing his Handbook on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament. The videos are good summaries of the book and how Beale thinks it can be used. For my review of the book see here.

This is part 4 of my review of Najeeb Awad’s God Without a Face?: On the Personal Individuation of the Holy Spirit.  See also Part 1Part 2, & Part 3.

Let me conclude my review of Awad’s God Without a Face? with a clear support for his purpose and his argument.  There is a distinction between the West and the East with regard to the individuation of the Spirit.  We cannot simply lay the blame at Augustine’s feet, because many factors influence modern theology and the Enlightenment has done no favors to Trinitarian theology.  Whatever the source, the simple critique of Awad is that the west represents a unitarian anhypostatization of the Trinity (104).  A less technical way to say this is that the church at large in the West, and particularly Protestants, have little room for the individuation of the Spirit.  There are many examples that demonstrate otherwise, but a large majority of those in the west lack a substantial place for the Spirit.

To combat this problem, Awad is rightly calling for a robust encounter with the Trinity.  If God is really three persons, three hypostases, then we need to be able to account for the individuation of each person of the Trinity.  This is not simply a charismatic (i.e., pentecostal) movement, but rather a call to take the revelation of God’s self seriously.  Obviously, this can (and has been) appropriated by the larger pentecostal/charismatic movement, though they are often not the ones who will be reading and drawing from the deep patristic tradition explored by Awad.  At the same time, it is important to note that the experience of the Spirit is not merely limited to those who have this more refined perspective on his individuation, just as he is not missing from non-Charismatic churches.  God has been working through the centuries through and in the church, but that is no reason to ignore this call to a more careful and thoughtful interaction with God’s self-revelation as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Accordingly, I can recommend Awad’s detailed and comprehensive monograph for those wanting to explore modern, patristic, and biblical conceptions of the Spirit.

This is part 3 of my review of Najeeb Awad’s God Without a Face?: On the Personal Individuation of the Holy Spirit.  See also Part 1, Part 2.

The focus in this post is on my disagreements, but be sure to read the other parts of the review that demonstrate my fundamental agreement with Awad’s overall thesis.

One point of disagreement that I have with Awad is on the issue of hierarchy in the Eastern, namely Cappadocian, views of the Trinity.  Awad notes that Basil and Gregory of Nyssa have some aspect of hierarchy, which he calls a “linear” perspective on the Trinity, as opposed to a “parallel model” which focuses on the “alongsidedness” captured in Gregory of Nazianzus (see esp. 134-139).  This linear perspective is one of the root causes of the poor reading in the west, as well.  Awad carefully balances the two models but clearly has a preference for the latter.  Some argue that Gregory of Nazianzus also works from a model of hierarchy, such that the Father is the fons divinitas, such that he follows in the same trajectory of the other Cappadocians.  This doesn’t negate the individuation of the Spirit or lead to the failures of Augustine, as Awad sees them, but it does maintain the hierarchy found in other Greek theologians.  This point of disagreement over the way of reading Gregory of Nazianzus doesn’t invalidate Awad’s overal thesis, but there might be more options than what are presented.

Awad’s thesis is already expansive, so you cannot fault him for not addressing a wider scope.  However, by frequently using the terminology of “perichoresis”, which has a distinct tradition in the later Eastern tradition, it might help clarify his use by exploring the development of that language.  Though it arose much later, Awad repeatedly describes Gregory Nazianzen’s theology as perichoretic.  Awad clearly describes that this theology entails a “reciprocal koinonia“, but the use of an anachronistic phrase should at least be explained.  I’m not bothered by it’s use, as my own work is based on using anachronistic terminology to describe Paul’s soteriology–theosis/christosis.  However, when dealing with a variety of time periods, it is helpful for readers to note the development and use of the terminology, since they may not realize that the terminology was not introduced until centuries after Gregory.

I will continue this review in my next post: Part 4.

This is part 2 of my review of Najeeb Awad’s God Without a Face?: On the Personal Individuation of the Holy Spirit.  See also Part 1.

In support of Najeeb’s thesis that we should take seriously the hypostatic reality of the Spirit, or his personal individuation, his monograph has four parts:

  1. The Twofold Distortion of Modern Pneumatology
  2. The Holy Spirit in the Theology of the Church Fathers
  3. ‘Person’ Theology and the Person of the Spirit
  4. The Scriptural Attestation to the Hypostasis of the Spirit

Rather than a biblical study regarding the Spirit, Awad presents the modern and historical discussion about the Spirit first and then addresses biblical texts.  The amount of material covered in this project is expansive.  By addressing biblical, patristic, medieval, and modern writers, Awad provides a comprehensive discussion of the topic of pneumatology.  This strength is also a weakness in that no one can master all of these areas, so inevitably he depends, at points, on secondary texts to help with his discussion of some texts not in his area of focus.  This is not a bad thing, but the strength of the monograph is in his discussion of the Cappadocians (particularly, Gregory of Nazianzus) and modern theologians.  In each part Awad has distinct areas of discussion, he regularly integrates voices from his main interlocutors–namely the Cappadocians and modern theologians.  Accordingly, the monograph maintains a sense of continuity and shows that theology is not merely a modern or historical task but a discussion from these various sources.

In part 1 of the monograph, Awad sets up two contemporary “anhypostatic” perspectives on the Spirit, that is, perspectives that lack an individuality of the Spirit.  These are what he calls “pneumatic-monism” in which the Holy Spirit is seen as a descriptive attribute or name ascribed to God’s relational encounter with humanity and “pneumatic-jesuology” in which the Spirit is an expression of the spiritual experience of Jesus Christ’s sonship in his relation with God as his Father.  Interestingly, in both camps Awad doesn’t just draw out the easy examples that lack a proper pneumatology; rather, he uses examples of scholars like Barth and Moltmann for the former and C.K. Barrett and J.D.G. Dunn for the latter who seemingly elevate the Trinity and/or the Spirit in their writings but end up still presenting a deficient Trinitarian perspective.

As he turns to the patristic era to sort out the roots of positive and negative pneumatologies, Awad presents the standard East vs West perspective regarding the focus on the respective emphasis on the threeness vs oneness of God.  It is clear that the Greek East, particularly the Cappadocians, present the better model for Awad.  Rather than an psycho-anthropological understanding of the Trinity that we find in Augustine, which spoils the western tradition who follow him, the Cappadocians hold a distinct role for the Spirit and thus capture a more robust koinonia-based Trinitarianism.  I wouldn’t agree that the division between East and West is so stark, but stereotypes often have their basis in some fact, and this one I think does as well.  Augustine would not feel the need to write a text titled “On Not Three Gods” as Gregory of Nyssa did.  At the same time, the Cappadocians don’t always neatly agree on key points (against a western perspective).  It is really only Gregory Nazianzen, according to Awad, who comes out with the “full attestation” of Cappadocian theology (111).  So, even when Basil and Gregory of Nyssa, do meet the full mark, they are given the benefit of the doubt because they are redeemed by Gregory of Nazianzus.  Thus, Awad rightly doesn’t make everyone say the same thing, and he helpfully draws out the distinct voices each of these key theologians provide.

I’ll continue my review in the next post: Part 3.

A friend of mine tipped me off about a new and helpful work on the Holy Spirit in  modern theology: Najeeb Awad’s God Without a Face?: On the Personal Individuation of the Holy Spirit, published with Mohr Siebeck in their newly established series Dogmatik in Der Moderne.  Mohr Siebeck kindly offered me a copy of the book to review here.

This engaging and challenging monograph began its life as doctoral thesis submitted to King’s College London, under the supervision of Colin Gunton and later Murrie Rae.  The title–God Without a Face?–points to ambiguity most Christians have with regard to the Holy Spirit.  God the Father, they understand, and God the Son, but what do we really think about the Spirit?  Many think of the Spirit as merely a way of talking about God’s action, and if they distinguish the Spirit from the Father and/or Son, he is merely an “it”, an indistiguishable grey blob of energy (cf. Gordon Fee, Paul, the Spirit, and the People of God, 24).  However, Awad wants the church and the academy to think more clearly about the distinct personhood, or “individuation” of the Spirit, so that one cannot think about God as Father and as Son without at the same time thinking about God as the Spirit.

Awad’s work is a fruit of the return to Trinitarian studies in the 20th century, which was spurred on by Barth but moved beyond him with the work of Moltmann and later Gunton and Torrance and a slew of other contemporary theologians.  This movement is not merely centered in Protestant thinking because it is highly influenced by greater ecumenical discussions particularly with Orthodox theologians as well as the patristic resourcement–a return to patristic sources as central to theological discussions.  Awad is no different in this, in that his study, is largely focused on patristic debates as means to assess modern Trinitarian constructions.  In particular, Cappadocian Trinitarian thinking is central to Awad’s argument.  This, I think, is a helpful move for all sorts of areas of theology, as my own thesis work on Greek patristic soteriology as a helpful introduction to reading Paul.  Accordingly, before picking up Awad’s monograph, I was already amenable to his methodology.

At the same time, I think the problem that Awad addresses is a central issue within Christian theology.  What place does the Spirit have in our theology?  Are we truly Trinitarian or do we merely use this language out of habit and out of tradition?  When I was in seminary and took my first class in systematics, my prof helpfully guided us into the Trinity as the foundational framework for doing theology.  As my essay for that class, I did a brief survey of different Protestant churches asking things about their stated views of God and their practice of incorporating the Trinity into their preaching and teaching.  I, unsurprisingly, found much continuity between different traditions about the Father and the Son, but there were wildly different conceptions of the Spirit portrayed.  This spurred me on to write almost every optional-topic essay I had in seminary about the Spirit–Spirit in the OT, Spirit in the New Covenant, etc.–so that I could better conceive of the Spirit in the divine economy.  I don’t think I personally scratched the surface, but I began to get a better feel for the Trinity.  I am woefully conscious of the continued general lack of Spirit-awareness, as my recent post on Christomonism demonstrates.

For my review I’ll do a few more posts as I interact with his helpful volume, so check back for those.

The Bible as a whole, and the NT in particular, is Christocentric.  That is, the gospel as the center of the Bible is a story of how Jesus as Israel’s Messiah has come to restore the world through is death and resurrection.  Other attempts as bringing in other “center” language has brought about quick corrections, e.g., Richard Hays rightly corrected his original framing of Paul’s reading of scripture as “ecclesiocentric” to be described later as “ecclesiotelic” in a “Christocentric” framework.  I heartily agree that the Christ-event is at the heart of the biblical story and of the Christian faith, but there is a consistent problem that I have noted among scholars and students: this Christocentrism has become a Christomonism, or we might also say the Trinitarianism of the Christianity is regularly becoming binitarian because we have lost sight of the Spirit in our theology.

Though this problem is not limited to Evangelicals, we often experience this because as a “Word” centered movement, Jesus and the Bible are are the heart of our spirituality and practice.  A robust Trinitarianism, which entails a strong view of the Spirit’s work, is often missing.  If any aspect of the Trinity is missing, it will be the Spirit, as the Father and Son are regularly represented.  When is the last time your church mentioned the Trinity, much less had sermon or a sermon series on the Trinity?

Let me offer for some examples for my case.

  • At the heart of my evangelical up-bringing was a heavy emphasis on reading and (properly) interpreting the Bible, an inheritance that I happily try to pass along to my students.  However, when I was learning my hermeneutical method, the Spirit played a minor role in the process.  Evangelicals have bought into the Enlightenment presupposition that one who employs the right method can get to the right meaning in the text.  I was taught the “historical-grammatical” method in distinction to the “historical-critical” method, but in either case the method entails the search for objective meaning.  Where is the Spirit in the method?  We were regularly encouraged to pray for the Spirit’s guidance, but I couldn’t tell you how a 1 Corinthians 2-3 epistemology was incorporated into the method.  There is much talk of the Bible as Spirit-inspired, but little training or emphasis on interpretation as Spirit-enlightened.  In the end, we relied/rely on a new holy Trinity: Father, Son, Holy Bible.  The Word is central, but where is the Spirit in our hermeneutics?
  • About a year or two ago I heard someone describe (folk) evangelical preaching and theology as “deistic therapeutic moralism”, that is, a focus on self-help practices focused on right living.  While evangelicalism has a more robust theology than this, I think it is an apt description of the average Christian mindset.  Many things over the past century have fed into this folk theology, but one of the main influences is again the Enlightenment deistic presuppositions.  People hear messages about repentance and holy living, but without a robust Trinitarian framework with the Spirit working in and transforming people, they are left with a call to morality without divine empowerment.  There is little place for a focus on New Covenant theology where God is restoring people’s hearts and not just giving them a right status.
  • The lack of a place for the Spirit was brought home to me clearly when I taught a class on Paul and His Letters this fall.  One of the textbooks I require is Gordon Fee’s Paul, the Spirit, and the People of God.  He has an excellent section on the trinitarian nature of Paul’s theology, and as we were discussing this an able student asked if I was worried about people thinking there are three gods since we are talking about the Spirit so much.  We talk about Jesus and the Father constantly, but are we worried about people thinking we believe in two gods?  No, but since we have no place for the Spirit in our theology of God, we work from a functional binitarianism rather than a Trinitarianism.
  • My last piece of evidence comes from a series of Biblical Theology lectures that I listened to.  I won’t mention the name because these otherwise helpful lectures were marred by a Christomonist portrayal of God’s work in the world.  In distinction to the Trinity as central or the Father working through Christ and the Spirit to establish his kingdom, or any other model of Biblical Theology, this speaker only mentioned Christ as the center of the biblical story.  Yes, Christ is central to God’s action in the world, but where is the biblical view of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit acting in conjunction.  The Spirit didn’t come into these lectures until the very end, almost as a side-note.  However, if God has revealed himself as Father, Son, and Spirit shouldn’t we begin with a Trinitarian framework for understanding his work, at least in discussing canonical theology?

As a mentioned above, I agree that the Bible is Christocentric: the gospel as the center of the Bible is a story of how Jesus as Israel’s Messiah has come to restore the world through is death and resurrection.  However, how can we understand the New Covenant work of the God-sent Messiah without understanding his Spirit-anointing which brings about a transformation of believers’ hearts as a fulfillment of the New Covenant?

In contemporary theology there has been a return to a focus on the Trinity as the center of the Christian faith, as affirmed in the Nicene Creed.  I think this is a healthy move, but if we are going to pursue a robust Trinitarian theology, the area that will need much refinement and focus is that of the third article of the Creed–the Holy Spirit.  With pentecostalism as the dominant growth force in the church globally, the importance of the Spirit will no doubt bring rise in prominence.  However, you don’t have to be a charismatic to be a Trinitarian.  If you think about your theology, do you have a robust Trinitarianism?  If not, I doubt it is because your view of the Father working through the Son is lacking.  Rather, do you have a place for the Spirit as essential to your view of God’s work in the world?  If not, I encourage you to seek out balanced voices like Gordon Fee and (re)discover the Spirit in the Trinity’s work in the world.

This post is a fruit of a review I’m doing on Najeeb Awad’s God Without a Face?: On the Personal Individuation of the Holy Spirit (Dogmatik in Der Moderne).