Pentecostal and traditional trinitarian theology

Table of Contents:

Despite differences over the filioque doctrine, Eastern and Western trinitarian theologies are fundamentally the same. The theology of divine processions from the Father gives their theologies structural and substantial similarity. The Father’s identity derives from being the unbegotten and the source of the Son’s and the Holy Spirit’s processions (Macchia 2010, 303—4). He is the one from whom the Son and Spirit proceed. The Son and the Spirit have their identities from their modes of procession (principally) from the Father. The Father begets the Son from eternity. His mode of procession is called generation from the Father. As such, he is the begotten Son. The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father. In the Eastern tradition, some regard the Spirit proceeding from the Father alone and others say the Spirit proceeds from the Father and through the Son. The Western tradition is not ambiguous on this point. It added the filioque clause to the Nicene-Constantinopolitan creed to indicate that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son.

Without minimizing the insult this addition provoked with the Eastern churches, the primary identities of the divine persons in both traditions are nearly identical. The Father’s primary identity resides in being the origin of the Son and the Spirit and not in interpersonal relationship with the Son and the Spirit. The relations are eternal, so the Father is always Father in relation to the Son. But the Father’s defining characteristic as person is generative; he is the source of the Son’s generation and the Spirit’s procession (Atkinson 2013, 123—25). The Son and the Holy Spirit have passive and derivative properties as persons. The Son and the Spirit are processions from the Father. Even with the filioque, the Spirit is primarily a procession from the Father. The Son secondarily contributes to the Spirit’s procession and does so only in a derivative sense. The Son can participate in the procession of the Spirit because he is first the Father’s begotten Son. The Son’s primary identity, like the Spirit’s, derives from his mode of proceeding (begotten) from the Father. The West’s filioque is clearer than the East on the mode of the Spirit’s procession (Atkinson 2013, 128). But it also intensifies the passivity of the Spirit (Yong 2005, 220). According to popular Western trinitarian theology, the Holy Spirit is the mutual love of the Father and the Son (Macchia 2010, 301—2). The Spirit is their mutual act. The key point, however, is that the passivity of the Spirit (and of the Son) is common to both traditions. The Spirit is either the product of the Father’s act alone or the product of the Father and the Son’s mutual act. Consequently, the Spirit has no immanent agency in these trinitarian theologies.

What does a Pentecostal trinitarian theology contribute to this traditional trinitarian theology? First, the Holy Spirit’s (and the Father’s and the Son’s) identity in the immanent Trinity should reflect the Spirit’s role in the narrative of redemption (Atkinson 2013, 56, 122, 148). The Spirit operates as a liminal, constituent, and eschatological agent. The Spirit’s identity should bear these characteristics of active agency in the work of redemption. The theology of processions does not account for them. The solution is not necessarily to jettison the processions (Atkinson 2013, 149) but to recognize that even if retained, indeed even the filioque, the processions do not comprehensively define the divine persons’ identities (Macchia 2010, 304—5). They neither correspond with the Spirit’s agency nor the divine persons’ interpersonal relationships with each other in the economy of redemption. A Pentecostal trinitarian theology argues that since the Holy Spirit is an active agent in the economy of redemption, the Spirit has a corresponding agency in the immanent Trinity. The problem is not the filioque per se. It expresses, in immanent trinitarian categories, the sent-from relations in the Gospel of John (Atkinson 2013, 146). But the processions and especially the filioque forget that the Holy Spirit constitutes Jesus as the incarnate Son of

God—e.g. conception, baptism, empowerment in ministry, and raising from the dead. The Father and the Son do not send the Holy Spirit because the Spirit is the last in the line of processions. They send the Spirit to share with the world the fellowship the Spirit generated between them in the immanent Trinity and in Christ in the narrative redemption (Macchia 2010, 305). From this perspective, trinitarian theology based on processions alone is not so much wrong as it is skewed and inadequate. The economy of redemption narrated in Scripture is the primary source of knowledge of God. The activities of the divine persons and their identities that emerge in that narrative are the basis for the Christian understanding of God (Atkinson 2013, 146). The Johannine sent-from relations between the Father, the Son, and the Spirit contribute to that vision of God. But the Spirit’s work in Christ and facilitation of his relationship with the Father do so as well (Atkinson 2013, 149, 157). Biblical pneumatology yields a trinitarian theology in which the identities of the divine persons are tri-conditioned.

Second, dynamic and reciprocal relationships define the identities of the divine persons in the narrative of redemption (Macchia 2010, 301, 305; Atkinson 2013, 62). In John 14—17, Jesus promises that he and the Father will come and make their home with the disciples. He also prays that they will share the same love he knows with the Father. This divine sharing of love and indwelling takes place through the Holy Spirit sent by the Father and the risen Christ. Since the Spirit is the constituent agent of the disciples’ participation in the Father and Son’s fellowship, the Spirit also establishes the Father and Son’s fellowship. The Spirit can play this unitive role in the disciples because the Spirit facilitates the Father and the Son’s interpersonal relationships from eternity (Atkinson 2013, 97). The Spirit is not passive. The Holy Spirit draws the disciples into the Father and Son’s fellowship of love. The Spirit operates as the liminal agent in whom the disciples cross into fellowship with the trinitarian God. Since the economic activities reflect immanent identities as persons, the Holy Spirit constitutes not only the disciples’ fellowship with the Father and Son, but the Father and Son’s own fellowship as well.

Third, the Spirit’s eschatological role in the economy corresponds with the Spirit’s immanent identity and role in the triune God (Macchia 2010, 305). Since the Spirit is the eschatological fulfillment of the trinitarian God’s work of redemption, the Spirit completes the fellowship of the trinitarian God (see Chapter 25). The Father and the Son do not know trinitarian communion until the Holy Spirit fulfills the triune relations. The identities of the Father and the Son described in John 17 are not realized in the immanent taxis “until” the third stage of the taxis—the subsistence of the Holy Spirit. The last stage of the immanent taxis completes the formation of the personal identities of the divine persons. The formation of the personal identities of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit is complete only when the Spirit achieves full trinitarian fellowship (Atkinson 2013, 147, 159). Thus, the divine fellowship achieves triune character, not in the processions, but in the agency of the Spirit. Consequently, the Holy Spirit’s activity is co-constitutional of the Father’s and the Son’s personal identities (Atkinson 2013, 56). The Spirit’s activity in relation to the Father and the Son, drawing them into and constituting the eternal fellowship of the trinitarian God, also contributes to the Spirit’s identity. In other words, the Spirit is not passive. The Spirit is neither only the Father’s act (Eastern tradition) nor only the Father and Son’s mutual act (Western tradition). Since the Holy Spirit constitutes the fellowship of the Father and the Son, a fellowship that defines their eternal identities, the Spirit plays an active role in defining the identities of the Father and the Son. The Spirit’s constituent role in shaping the identities of the Father and Son reflects the Spirit’s eschatological role in the economy of redemption.


Although the doctrine of the Trinity divided early Pentecostals into trinitarian and Oneness groups, only recently has it become the subject of sustained theological reflection. This chapter presented the current state of the Pentecostal contribution to trinitarian theology in the terms of the Spirit and fellowship of God. We find three dominant types of trinitarian theology pursued by contemporary Pentecostals: (1) the Trinity as a resource for constructive work on other theological topics, (2) supplementing traditional trinitarian theology with Pentecostal insights, and (3) developing a Pentecostal approach to the doctrine of God. Focusing on the third type, we see that the heart of a Pentecostal trinitarian theology is the identity of the Holy Spirit emerging from the biblical narrative. The Spirit of Pentecost is a culminating moment in the narrative of redemption and indicates the Spirit’s identity and role in the triune God—the Spirit constitutes and fulfills the fellowship of the Trinity.


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