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 1, Part 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”.