People get nervous about the Holy Spirit.
I’ll never forget developing a friendship with someone in my neighborhood, who I’ll call Jordan, when my wife Monica and I moved to Philadelphia in 2008 to start Liberti Church. Jordan is like most of the people who live in my neighborhood: smart, cosmopolitan, and decidedly un/non/post-Christian. Shortly after meeting him, I realized that I was literally the first Christian person he’d ever really interacted with.
Jordan told me over dinner one evening, that he did have one other run-in with Christianity. Something of a jack-of-all-trades, he worked on the film Jesus Camp, a 2006 documentary that debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival, about a kids’ summer camp called “Kids on Fire” which happened in the Midwest. At the camp, children were taught to “get the Spirit,” roll around on the ground, babble crazily, and yell at the top of their lungs. After describing to me the strange, alternate universe he entered when on location for the film, he wrinkled his face up: “Is that like what you do?”
Even Christians are a little uncertain about the Spirit. Christians call God “Father,” and “Son”—both of which are relational titles with human analogues. The other member of the Holy Trinity? “Spirit.” Or, in the King’s English, “the Holy Ghost.” (That’s pronounced as one word south of the Mason-Dixon line: the “HolyGhost”.)
Yet, two millennia of Christian praying, worshipping, and theologizing has insisted that we can’t commune with God, can’t follow Jesus without the mysterious third member of the Trinity. After affirming “I believe in God…” and “I believe in Jesus Christ…”, the community of Jesus takes a breath, and gets in on the action: “I believe in the Holy Spirit… the Church… the forgiveness of sins…”
John’s favorite word for the Holy Spirit is “parakletos”-- a rich, many-sided term variously translated as “Advocate,” “Comforter,” or “Mediator.” Tertullian called the Holy Spirit the “doctor veritatis”—the “Truth-Teacher,” or “Truth-Doctor.” Augustine of Hippo thought of the Spirit as the “digitus Dei”—the “finger of God.” The Holy Spirit is God-in-action, God-in-person.
The Holy Spirit attaches us to God’s past, present, and future. The Spirit brings God’s mighty history in Christ into our present; unites us with God’s own life, and offers us a foretaste of God’s great promised future.
This makes profound sense in the lives of people far from Christian faith: the Christian story takes us seriously as whole persons. Christianity is a matter of history, intellect, facts—but not only these things. Christian faith is both intellectually compelling and spiritually satisfying.
Oftentimes, when I’m invited to a dinner party, a wedding, or some other various-and-sundry-kind-of-get-together, and I can’t (or don’t want) to attend, I’ll often say, “I’ll be there in spirit!” The night before his death, Jesus told his friends this too, but he meant it, and it’s still good news for his friends two millennia later.
Jared Ayers is the founding and preaching pastor of Liberti Church in Philadelphia, PA. He is a graduate of Lancaster Bible College, and is currently finishing an M.Div. from Western Theological Seminary’s Newbigin House of Studies. Jared and his wife Monica have been married for 10 years, and love calling Philadelphia home. They’ve been graced with two sons (Brennan and Kuyper) and a daughter (Rae Ann).