The Artistic Pursuit of the Holy Spirit

I remember as a young boy in science class first learning about the unseen, subatomic world and feeling bad for those whose responsibility it was to work on what they couldn’t see, touch, or “know.” Now as a pastor and theologian who aims to be confessional and constructive, I feel similarly for those of us who delve deeply in pneumatology, the study of the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit has been called “forgotten” and “hidden,” though quite plainly the Christian life must be empowered by the Spirit and must bear the fruit of the Spirit. While we dare not ignore him, we must also remained chastened in our theological pronouncements where biblical data is thin.

Aesthetic Work

Paul J. Pastor—self-described “grassroots pastor” and adjunct professor at Mulnomah University—taps into this vein with The Face of the Deep: Exploring the Mysterious Person of the Holy Spirit. The book takes on an autobiographical flow:

I began to realize that only through embracing the Spirit’s immanence—his intimate presence in all of creation—would I be able to make any kind of lived sense of him: to know him like I know a lover and friend; to understand the rich teaching about him; to see his power as elemental, delicate, unshakable, the inner life of all love and existence, of me and you. (17–18) 

A similar feature is the book’s epigraphs—the short quotations at the outset of each chapter. These strategically placed poems, excerpts of literature, and biblical statements about the Spirit—along with original visual art commissioned for the book—offer a unified aesthetic experience that advances Pastor’s thesis of an experienced Spirit. I appreciate those who explore artistic ways to incorporate every faculty in the task of theological knowledge.

Missing the Gospel

Regrettably, however, The Face of the Deep suffers from a lack of theological finesse, which is most apparent at the conclusion of “The Renewer of the Earth” (109–125). Pastor returns to words he ascribes to the Spirit (words that originate with Josef Pieper, 36) on several occasions to describe the divine posture of love toward all: “It’s good that you are; how wonderful that you exist!” He continues: “The creator and sustainer made everything in love and he keeps everything in love” (123). Though Pastor acknowledges that the Spirit isn’t “content to let brokenness remain forever,” he doesn’t show how the reversal of brokenness relates to God’s ultimate plan. In other words, he doesn’t connect the Spirit, the Creator and Sustainer, with Christ’s redemption and sanctification of his people.

At times Pastor speaks of a “beginning of a re-creation” (152) and “death before new life” (160). He comes close to describing the gospel but doesn’t tease out in biblical compass the meaning of “holiness and healing” (228), being born of the Spirit (234), being buried and raised to Christ’s kind of life (254), and clinging to Christ’s name and receiving his nature (257). So even when Pastor agrees with Paul that the Spirit is “our down payment of the resurrection life that is to come,” the reference serves only to advance the metaphor of “seed-life” and the Spirit’s invitation to “Rest. Rest. Enter into my rest” (272). Not only doesn’t the book mention the term “gospel,” the concept itself isn’t even developed.

Readers of various backgrounds may come to The Face of the Deep asking, “Is God—even God the Holy Spirit—favorable toward me?”  Pastor’s yes is not grounded (even aesthetically) in repentance and faith on the part of the hearer. More must be said, for in the gospel God’s love and the Spirit’s power is most specifically seen in applying the work of Christ to gather a people from every tribe, tongue and nation to worship the Lamb.

Whole Spirit

I’m drawn to this book; I appreciate its art and I love its energy and fervor. Indeed, Pastor demonstrates a kind of writing and speaking that should more consistently mark many of our ministries. 

Yet on the whole this book is a missed opportunity. While it will make many readers more attentive to the Spirit’s activity, it’s not a guide that is both steady and scriptural. Pastor does not adequately differentiate between the Spirit’s work in creation and in salvation. To put it most simply, The Face of the Deep doesn’t describe the one who “convicts the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8). 

Paul Pastor. The Face of the Deep: Exploring the Mysterious Person of the Holy Spirit. Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2016. 304 pp. $16.99. 


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