German Protestantism and the Spirit of God. From Luther to Moltmann

Textbook, 2010

55 Pages, Grade: none



Chief abbreviations


Part one: The Holy Spirit in the life of the church

Part two: Key theologians and their pneumatologies

Chapter one: key features of their pneumatologies

Chapter two: omissions and deficiencies

Chapter three: location of their pneumatologies within their theological frameworks

Chapter four: controlling features

Chapter five: trinitarian perspective

Part three: Conclusion

Biographical notes


Online resources

Chief abbreviations

illustration not visible in this excerpt


'Im Namen des Vaters und des Sohnes und des Heiligen Geistes. Amen' – 'In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen'. For regular worshippers in German-speaking Lutheran and Reformed churches, these words spoken by the pastor are very familiar, as they mark the beginning of every Sunday service. With these words, the pastor reminds the congregation in whose name they are gathered and whom they are called to worship. Later on in the service, the congregation is asked to stand and confess their faith with the words of the Apostle’s Creed or, on special occasions, the Nicene Creed. Again, the third person of the Trinity is mentioned. However, having been a member of German-speaking Lutheran and Reformed churches for many years, I have noticed that God has often not been really worshipped as Trinity. God has been very much presented and understood as God the Father and God the Son. The churches tended to stress God the Father's role as the almighty, sovereign creator and loving father, as well as the redemptive work of God the Son. The Holy Spirit has more or less been neglected. The third Person of the Trinity has hardly been mentioned in sermons, nor dealt with in Bible studies. My observations prompted me to carry out a research into the understanding of the Holy Spirit among members of German Lutheran and Reformed churches and to test the following hypothesis: There is an unbalanced understanding of the triune God in mainstream German Protestant churches, insofar as the Holy Spirit plays a minor role in these churches. This phenomenon is rooted in German Protestant theology and can be traced back through the ages and the theological schools to Reformation times. In order to test this hypothesis, I interviewed German-speaking Lutheran and Reformed Christians and analysed and compared hymn books from different periods, contemporary lectionaries, liturgies of confirmation and ordination, as well as text books on systematic theology. Furthermore, I analysed the theologies of influential German-speaking Protestant theologians of different theological schools as regards their understanding of the Trinity in general and the Holy Spirit specifically. The results of this research are presented in this book.

Part one: The Holy Spirit in the life of the church

Survey in German Protestant churches

Three hundred copies of a questionnaire on the understanding of the triune God in general and the Holy Spirit in particular were distributed in six out of seven parochial areas of the German-Speaking Synod of Lutheran, Reformed and United Congregations in Great Britain. Sixty-three of these questionnaires were filled in by church members and were returned. An analysis of the questionnaires led to the following results: Eighty-one per cent of the respondents believed in the substitutionary and redemptive death of Jesus Christ, but only forty-six per cent agreed that Jesus was fully human and fully God. For fifty-four per cent, Jesus was only a human being. The number of respondents who considered the Holy Spirit as divine was even lower. Only twenty-four per cent agreed to the divinity of the third person of the Trinity. With regard to the gifts of the Spirit, only twenty-five per cent considered prophecy as a spiritual gift and only seventeen per cent regarded discernment as a gift of the Spirit. Eighty-six per cent held that leadership is not a spiritual gift. Eighty-one per cent considered speaking in tongues as unbiblical, and fifty-four per cent did not believe that the gift of healing could be found in the Bible. Being asked about their own spiritual gifts only forty-one per cent of the interviewees were willing or able to give an answer.


The Deutsches Evangelisches Gesangbuch, published in 1929, contains 515 hymns. Whereas 237 of these hymns (46%) focus on Jesus Christ or address him directly, only sixteen (3%) have a similar focus on the Holy Spirit. Nineteen hymns (4%) are explicitly Trinitarian. A survey of the Evangelisches Kirchengesangbuch (EKG), which succeeded the Deutsches Evangelisches Gesangbuch in 1958, revealed a more or less similar result. Only fourteen (3%) out of 483 hymns deal with the Holy Spirit, while sixteen hymns (3%) are Trinitarian. 185 hymns (38%) have a Christological emphasis. With the Evangelisches Gesangbuch that replaced the EKG in 1997 the number of Christological hymns (163 hymns, 31%) is again discernibly lower, while the number of pneumatological hymns (20 hymns, 4%) has not changed much. Like the German hymnbooks, the 2nd edition of the British Hymns for Today's Church contains a huge number of Christological hymns (290 hymns or 47%). But, in contrast to its German counterparts, Hymns for Today's Church has more hymns about the Holy Spirit (42 or 7%) and the Trinity (74 or 12%). The same is true for two other major English hymnals. In the Methodist Hymns and Psalms, there are seventy-two pneumatological (9%) and sixty-one Trinitarian hymns (7%). In Rejoice and Sing of the United Reformed Church, forty-one hymns (6%) concentrate on the Holy Spirit and thirty-eight on the Trinity. Compared with these two latter hymnbooks, The English Hymnal and Sing Glory contain fewer pneumatological but more Trinitarian hymns. Sixty-nine hymns (10%) in Sing Glory and even 166 hymns (25%) in The English Hymnal have a Trinitarian emphasis.

Lectionaries and sermons

The German Protestant lectionary (Perikopenordnung) proposes a certain biblical passage to be preached on for every Sunday service and every church festival, such as Good Friday or Christmas. Altogether, there are between sixty-eight and seventy proposals each year. In the church year 2006/2007, only six sermon passages mentioned the Holy Spirit. In the passages for the church year 2007/2008, the Holy Spirit appears eleven times. In the lectionary for 2008/2009, there are ten passages that mention the Spirit. However, the number of sermon passages that particularly focus on God’s Spirit is even lower. Only seventeen out of these twenty-seven passages deal with the nature or work of God’s Spirit.

In the lectionary of the Church of England, there are readings from the Old and New Testament which provide the basis for sermons to be preached at the principal services. In 2007 (Year C), thirty-five passages mentioned the third person of the Trinity. In the year 2008 (Year A), the Holy Spirit could be found in thirty-nine passages. And for the year 2009 (Year B), the lectionary contains forty passages that mention the Spirit.


In 1999, the Evangelical Church of the Union and the United Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Germany introduced a new common worship book. The Evangelisches Gottesdienstbuch contains liturgies and prayers not only for every Sunday service but also for special occasions, such as confirmations and ordinations. Altogether, there are 230 recommended prayers for the principal Sunday services. While thirty-one of these prayers (13%) are directly addressed to Jesus Christ, only three (1%) address the Holy Spirit. In the confirmation liturgy, neither the chosen readings and hymns nor the prayers mention the third person of the Trinity. Even if we assume that a confirmation service would start with the traditional Trinitarian formula 'In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit' and that the Apostle's Creed would be said, one can say that the Holy Spirit is completely ignored. In contrast to the confirmation liturgy, the liturgy for ordinations proposed herein takes the third person of the Trinity into account. Thus, the Spirit is referred to in the prayers and in one of the hymns. But from the chosen readings (Is. 55:8-11, Rom. 10:13-17, Lk. 24:44-49) and the introductory Psalm (22:23-32), it becomes clear that the emphasis is on God's Word and its proclamation.

In the Anglican liturgy Confirmation outside the Eucharist published in 1998, the Holy Spirit plays an essential role. Not only the collect but also the profession of faith focuses on the Spirit. In the confirmation act itself the conducting bishop explicitly describes the Spirit's role as counsellor, comforter and as the one who brings knowledge and wisdom. The Spirit is mentioned eighteen times in this liturgy. The same consideration of the Holy Spirit can be seen in the Anglican ordination liturgies. In the liturgy for the ordination of priests, as published in the Alternative Service Book of 1980, one of the chosen Old Testament readings has its focus on God's Spirit (Isa. 61:1-3a), whereas the New Testament reading (2 Cor.s 5:14-19) is about Christ, his love and his reconciling work for humankind. One of the main prayers, the Veni Creator, addresses the third person of the Trinity directly, and, in the ordination act itself, the bishop asks God to send down the Holy Spirit upon the candidate. Altogether this liturgy mentions the Spirit thirteen times.

Theological literature

Walter Kreck (1970) in his Grundfragen der Dogmatik deals with the person of Jesus Christ, his human and divine nature, the cross and resurrection as well as eschatological aspects on fifty-nine pages. Only five pages are about the Holy Spirit. Here, Kreck examines the relationship between the second and the third person of the Trinity. Spiritual gifts or specific works of the Holy Spirit, as they are described, for example, in Paul’s letter to the Romans (12:6-8) and John's Gospel (16:8,13), are not mentioned by Kreck. While half of the first volume of Hans Graß's (1974) Christliche Glaubenslehre is about Christ and his work, the second volume contains only a very short chapter of eight pages on the Spirit. The chapter is entitled 'Das Problem des Heiligen Geistes' (The Problem of the Holy Spirit). This title is a meaningful one, since Graß comes to the conclusion that the Holy Spirit is neither God nor divine in any sense (:78). In Friedrich Mildenberger's (1987) work Grundwissen der Dogmatik, thirty pages cover the area of Christology, while only seven pages deal with pneumatology. Mildenberger speaks about the Spirit's work in redemption as well as the Spirit's relation to the Word of God. He does not mention spiritual gifts. The same pre-eminence of Christology can be found in Wilfried Joest's (1989) Dogmatik. Joest deals with God the Father on sixty-six pages, with God the Son on eighty-nine and with God the Holy Spirit on fifty-eight pages.

A much more balanced and orthodox presentation of the nature and work of God’s Spirit can be found in systematic theology textbooks by Anglo-Saxon theologians, especially those who belong to the evangelical camp. Thus, Bruce Milne (1998:222) writes about the identity of the Spirit: “The Holy Spirit is not 'it', an impersonal force of power but a divine person.” He continues: “Scripture witnesses unambiguously to the deity of the Holy Spirit. He is a member of the Godhead, the everblessed object of our worship, love and praise, who shares the same divine nature as the Father and the Son.” Wayne Grudem (1994), in his Systematic Theology, dedicates 104 pages to the person of Christ, the atonement, Christ’s resurrection and ascension, and the offices of Christ. On twenty-two pages he deals with the work of the Holy Spirit. However, Grudem also looks at the gifts of the Spirit and baptism in the Spirit on 100 pages. Finally, Stanley Grenz (1994), in Theology for the Community of God, dedicates 149 pages to the subject of Christology and 135 pages to pneumatology. Grenz deals with the identity of God’s Spirit, the relationship between the Spirit and the Bible, and the role of the Spirit in the conversion and salvation of individuals. Grenz comments about the Spirit’s role:

“As the Creator Spirit, he is the author of life and the facilitator of new life, bringing to fruition God’s salvation in the world. God’s activity encompasses all creation, but humankind is its focus. The Spirit applies Christ’s work to humans, effecting our union with the Lord and with each other in Christ’s community” (:529).


The above mentioned research results seem to confirm that there is a weak understanding of the Holy Spirit in mainstream German Protestant churches. In contrast to the Church of England and other Anglo-Saxon churches, there is little emphasis on the Spirit in the churches' worship and proclamation. The same seems to be true for theological education. And if it is true, what people say, that Lutheran Christians learn their theology through sermons and hymns, the results of the survey should not be a surprise anymore.

Part two: Key theologians and their pneumatologies


In order to test the second part of the hypothesis, which claims that the weak understanding of the Holy Spirit is rooted in German Protestant theology, the pneumatologies of six sample theologians are examined. These theologians are not only widely considered to be highly influential, but also represent different theological schools and eras. These theologians are: Martin Luther, Phillip Jakob Spener, Friedrich Schleiermacher, Karl Barth, Eberhard Jüngel and Jürgen Moltmann. With regard to the pneumatologies of these theologians, their key features are looked at first, as it is important to see them in their own right before one can start to compare them with each other. After that, their omissions and deficiencies, their location within the wider theological framework, their controlling features, and their Trinitarian nature are examined.

Chapter one: key features of their pneumatologies

Luther and the works of the Spirit

Brian Gaybba (1987:97) argues that Luther held a very traditional view of the person of the Holy Spirit. In his Confession concerning Christ's Supper, Luther (LW37:365-366) expresses his conviction that the Holy Spirit together with the Father and the Son is one true God, that he proceeds eternally from Father and Son, but is yet a distinct person. While in medieval times much emphasis was put on the doctrine of the person of the Holy Spirit, the reformer Luther, as Stortz (1986:332) points out, is much more concerned about the works of the Spirit. This becomes very clear in the third article of his Shorter Catechism in which Luther identifies three main works of the Spirit: the creation of faith, sanctification and the giving of spiritual gifts (in Rupp 1970:141).

According to Luther, it is the Holy Spirit's task to create faith. The Holy Spirit plays the main role in a person's regeneration. Luther (LW2:124) writes about this office of the Spirit: “He takes me as clay and makes me a new creature, which is endowed with a different mind, heart, and thoughts, that is a true knowledge of God and a sincere trust in his grace. To summarize, the very essence of my heart is renewed and changed.” For Luther, human nature is so corrupt that it does not know anything about God unless it is enlightened by God's Word and God's Spirit (LW2:124). It is the Holy Spirit who, with the help of the Gospel, causes people to believe in Christ and his works (LW36:301). No one can come to faith by his own strength. Faith is a gift of God. It is God's Spirit, who “gives and creates this faith in our hearts as it pleases him, when we hear the gospel or the word of Christ” (LW38:86).

Luther not only recognises the Spirit as the creator of faith but also as the sanctifier. In one of his sermons on John chapter 14, Luther (LW24:168) argues that the Spirit makes believers holy before God simply because he is given to them. In his Sermons on the Catechism Luther writes: “...the Holy Spirit is my sanctifier. For he sanctifies me through the following works: Through the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting” (in Dillenberger 1961:212). Luther goes on to explain that the Spirit leads people into the Christian church, where the gospel is preached and the sacraments are administered (:213). The Spirit works through these means in the human heart. He comforts Christian believers, enables them to obey God, and gives them “power and strength to overcome the terrors of sin and death” (LW24:171; LW13:290). He changes people so that they do not serve God out of fear, but out of love (LW14:172), and he helps them to become more like Christ (LW41:166).

Last but not least, it is the Spirit who not only gives himself as a gift, but distributes certain spiritual gifts to Christian believers. According to Luther (LW4:202), these spiritual gifts belong to the Holy Spirit, and not to the Christian. It is the believer's task to praise and proclaim them (LW8:182). Luther distinguishes between two kinds of spiritual gifts. There are those gifts which are given to every believer, such as baptism, the Lord's Supper, the Gospel, absolution, or the ministry of the Word (LW4:201; LW8:182). Then there are the more extraordinary gifts, such as teaching, serving, or exhorting, which are allocated to individuals according to the measure of faith (LW25:106,444).

Spener: the Holy Spirit as the author of scripture and of personal renewal

John Weborg (1985:25) believes the new birth, caused by the Holy Spirit, is the key concept in Spener's theology. While Weborg is right that the new birth is important to Spener, Spener is far more concerned about sanctification, i.e. the way Christians live their faith. Spener's major concern is, as Stein (1996:6) puts it, “the process of growth in faith and the striving after Christian perfection”. In his Pia Desideria, Spener (PD:80-81), who believes in baptismal regeneration as a result of the work of the Holy Spirit, writes that baptism is not enough. Christians who have put on Christ in their baptism must also be witnesses for him in their outward lives. This process of sanctification, or renewal, is the work of the Holy Spirit in cooperation with the Christian believer (Stein 1996:8). True Christian faith, Spener writes, can exist neither without the Holy Spirit nor without the believer's desire and effort to live a sinless life (PD:30). Consequently, all those who live under the rule of sin subdue the Holy Spirit and have no real Christian faith (:30-31).

Furthermore, Spener emphasises the role of the Holy Spirit in the writing of the Bible. Spener teaches that the words of the Bible are the words of the Holy Spirit. In fact Christians should believe “that every word is recorded by the Holy Spirit designedly as it is” (SP:57). Because of this, Christians should not rely on their reason but on the Holy Spirit, who dwells in them, when they read the Scriptures (:58). Therefore one can say that Spener is an advocate of the doctrine of verbal inspiration of the Scriptures. However, in contrast to those who believe that revelation ends with the New Testament apostles, Spener argues that God’s prophetic light continues to shine, though not in the same way (Bloesch 2000:120).


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German Protestantism and the Spirit of God. From Luther to Moltmann
Namibia Evangelical Theological Seminary
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ISBN (Book)
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Thorsten Prill shows that there is an unbalanced understanding of the triune God in mainstream German Protestant churches, insofar as the Holy Spirit plays a minor role in these churches. This phenomenon is rooted in German Protestant theology and can be traced back through the ages and the theological schools to Reformation times.
Luther, Moltmann, Barth, Spener, Schleiermacher, Juengel, Pneumatology, Holy Spirit, Trinity, Lutheran Church, Reformed Church, Church of England, Worship, Omissions & Deficiencies, Controlling Features, Heiliger Geist
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Thorsten Prill (Author), 2010, German Protestantism and the Spirit of God. From Luther to Moltmann, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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