The Pseudoscience of Pneumatology

Hello Baysiders! Hope all is well in your souls. As we close our summer sermon series on the gifts of the spirit I want to share some footnotes on the matter.

The theological term for studying the Holy Spirit is called pneumatology (pronounced new-ma-tology). A plethora of scholars and Bible nerds have sought to understand the Spirit’s nature which we are all grateful for, but I believe pneumatology is a pseudoscience because every scientific exploration of the Spirit will fall short and to claim predictability and perfect accuracy is false. Yet for loves sake we attempt to understand and categorize the working power of the third person of the trinity with mystery. The sermon series and this blog entry is a joyful exploration into the mystery of the godhead.

Regarding church relations, I like what former Anglican honcho Rowan Williams said, “The model of human existence, in the Body of Christ, is one in which each person is both needy and needed, both dependent on others and endowed with gifts for others.” This sheds light on how spiritual gifts operate: they are relationally interdependent at their core. You can’t use your spiritual gift by yourself. It would be strange if you tried to do the tango alone on the dance floor; you would come off as weird and not understanding how the dance works. This means we discover our gifts by committed relationships at church. Avoid the short-cuts, like spiritual gift tests. Yes, they can help, but they often cause people to focus on the wrong thing like the gift itself. A typical problem we face is we don’t desire to strengthen other people’s faith, instead we only focus on our own needs and our own gifts. We don’t need any more help in this department as we are naturally self-centered. This was the problem in the Corinth church, they focused on their own gifts, who got what and how powerful they were rather than the needs of people, causing immaturity and division. Gift tests can reinforce people’s egotism as they work like self-fulfilling prophecies. We answer questions according to how we like to view ourselves, not as we really are. This causes Christians to miss learning new things about themselves, the things we can only learn through the rough and tumble of relationships. Gift tests are not necessarily wrong, and at times can guide us to knowing our gifts but they are a bit like the answers at the back of a math book. They might give you the right answer, but using them to avoid working out the solution misses the point of the exercise. Gifts are not discovered by an algorithm of multiple choice but by service in relationships. It’s through the natural processes of loving and serving the church body (wherever the body needs it) that a person’s gifts will gradually be discovered. The first step is to cultivate a right heart to serve the need, not to seek a power ability for your own gain. 

Peter in 1 Peter 4:10 says, “As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.” The point of gifts is to give to others, not for our own gain or agenda. Gifts are for others because that’s the nature of the Spirit, it’s relational, and this is Peter’s underlining point. We are not to focus on finding our gifts and using them for ourselves. What if the hand only worked alone and didn’t respond to the entire body? What if your foot decided to not move when you wanted to get up? When one part gets overly emphasized, getting all the attention or goes solo, the whole malfunctions and becomes unhealthy. Its actually a sign of something wrong with your foot or eye if you have to consciously focus on it and try to make it work. When you focus solely on your spiritual gift and trying to make it work, it’s either not your gift or you are overusing it at the expense of others.

A final thought to add is spiritual gifts are not the same as natural talents. While natural talents are God-given, they have nothing to do with a person being a Christian, or being a member of the body of Christ. There is no such thing as the spiritual gift of fixing automobiles, gourmet cooking, telling jokes, painting pictures, or playing basketball. However, while spiritual gifts and natural talents are different, they can be used together. For example, a person who has the spiritual gift of mercy, could minister to the body of Christ by repairing a single parent’s automobile, cooking for someone in need, using humor to encourage a believer going through a difficult time, painting and selling pictures, giving proceeds to missions, or using their platform of sports to tell others about the love of Christ. This must be said clearly, spiritual gifts are spiritual. That means before you were a Christian you didn’t have them. Natural talent does not mean they also are your spiritual gifts; that would contradict Paul’s words in First Corinthians. I say this because a lot of Christians make this mistake. They think, “Oh because you are great communicator and charismatic, you must have the gift of teaching.” Nope. “Oh well you’re naturally good at organizing and planning so you must have the gift of administration at church.” Nope. Many Christians wrongly judge gifts based on people’s natural abilities. Spiritual gifts are not self revelatory or self created, the Spirit has to reveal them to you for you to open the gift. Just because your natural talent crosses over to some church gifts does mean you are to use them. A determining factor is “need.” For example, does your church need an extra Bible group teacher? If no, then your teaching talent is not required and must be pulled back. If you push it and label it as a spiritual gift, without the Spirit’s confirmation and church affirmation, then it will be fleshly motivated and a big crash will occur sometime down the road because the Spirit was never in it (i.e. preacher falls into sin because he had no character or calling supporting his “talent”).

Enjoy your spiritual gifts exploration with these ideas. Dive into the mystery of pneumatolgy. But most of all, don’t forget to love.

Grace and peace (;^)

Aaron Gomez