A Pneumatological Anthropology? How the Indwelling Spirit Renews and Empowers Human Persons

Can the indwelling Holy Spirit, whom Jesus promised in John 14:17, renew and empower entire human persons – including the mind, will, emotions, relationships, and vocation – in the image of Christ?

In John 14:16-18, Jesus promises the Father will send “another advocate” – the Spirit of truth. Jesus states that the Spirit will be “known” by indwelling human persons and that, through the Spirit, Jesus himself “will come to you.”

Many theologians assert that, by “taking on” human nature, the Son’s divine nature could thereby effect our human nature in sending forth the Spirit. It seems clear that the Spirit has the capacity to transmits qualities of Christ’s Personhood to human persons, but just how complete is this transmission?

In answering these questions two subtle tendencies must be avoided. First, “modern” conceptions of the Spirit, particularly those of a Kantian leaning, have made “knowledge” of the Spirit as an indwelling Person essentially inaccessible.

Secondly, “postmodern” theologians, in pursuit of a more “radical access” to the Spirit, often blur the distinction between the Holy Spirit and the human spirit, reducing the divine Person to a political force or communal experience.

Evangelical theology rightly insists on retaining the Spirit-spirit distinction. Only through such a distinction might we recognize, and magnify, the rich resources of the Spirit of Christ. However, evangelicals should also listen to the believer’s longing for full access to these resources, affirming that we might “know” the Spirit not only as one who indwells us but, in turn, renews and empowers our entire humanity.

This tension between retaining the Spirit’s ontological distinction and supporting “full access” to the Spirit is demonstrated throughout Scripture. Following the nuance of ginosko (in John 14:17) as intimate personal acquaintance, we shall examine four critical passages that highlight the Spirit’s relation to entire human persons:
1. Genesis 1:27-28; 2:7 – The Spirit creates the entire person in the divine image while affirming human vocation.
2. Acts 1:8 – The Spirit imparts power for believers to act as representations of Christ through their entire personhood.
3. Romans 8:1-27 – The Spirit liberates the entire person from a “law of death” (verse 2), redeeming a person’s lifestyle (4), mind (5-7), authority-structure (9), body (11), will (13), relational identity (14-16), and internal struggles (26-27).
4. First Corinthians 12:12-27 – The metaphor of the human body demonstrates how the Spirit is known in a “fuller” sense within church communities.

A variety of evangelical theologians have recently developed models to explain the nature of, and our access to, the indwelling Spirit (i.e., James K. A. Smith, Kimberley Kroll, Kevin Vanhoozer). Their contributions demonstrate that a theology of the indwelling Spirit should be central to Christian thought, ministry, and practice. I will also demonstrate that our “knowledge” of the Spirit’s indwelling needs to expand further in order to wrestle with and explicate its renewing effect upon the human mind, relationships, affections, the will, vocation, etc., and its empowerment of believers as Christ’s “witnesses.”

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