Wheaton’s annual theology conference opened yesterday, focusing this year on the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. Since this is my first time at the conference, I was interested to see how things would go. And so far, I’m quite impressed. (A few people are live tweeting from the conference. Follow #WTC14 if you want to follow along.)
I don’t know that I’ll have time to comment on each of the papers, though they have all been interesting in their own way. But I will highlight the ones I found most compelling. And I’ll start where the conference did, with an impressive paper from Sandra Richter on “The Holy Spirit in Scripture.”
Despite the fact that she only had a couple of weeks to put the paper together after one of the other presenters backed out for health reasons, she nailed it. Covering everything the Bible says about the Spirit in 45 min is impossible. But highlighting some of the most important ideas in a truly engaging way while synthesizing biblical and theological insights? Apparently that can be done.
It’s hard to select just a couple of favorite insights from the paper, but I’ll try. Most importantly, the paper focused on the Spirit as God’s “presence” with his people in creation. She traced that from God’s presence in creation, through his presence in Israel and the temple, to his presence in the incarnate Christ, and then his presence in the church, and the ultimate, eschatological restoration of God’s full presence with his people in his creation at the end of days.
Richter helpfully spent considerable time on the Spirit in Gen 1-2. Discussions of biblical pneumatology routinely skip over most of Genesis after a suitably cursory comment about the Spirit “moving/hovering/brooding/whatevering” over the waters in 1:2. But Richter rightfully took some time to talk about the role of the Spirit in the creation of the world and the formation of God’s people. And in the process she gave us one of the best lines of the day: “The Holy Spirit is what makes us image rather than merely animate.”
Of course, “Peter, you rock!” after summarizing Peter’s Pentecost sermon was pretty fabulous as well.
And a line that I’ll be using regularly came when discussing the meaning of ruach in the Old Testament. After a quick summary of the word’s tremendously diverse range of meanings, Richter refused to try and pin down one “core” meaning of the word that would serve as the basis for her biblical presentation, which is something that many do when talking about the Spirit in the OT. Instead, she commented, “Good exegesis demands more than lexicography.” The same is true for theology. Defining terms is important but ultimately inadequate.
And you have to love a biblical studies paper that concludes by having everyone stand and read Epiphanius’ Creed!
In the end, it was the perfect way to begin a conference on the Holy Spirit. The paper was both delightful and insightful, and it’s not easy to accomplish both of those in the same paper.