The doctrine of the procession of the Spirit is important because if the Spirit dwells in our hearts, it is important to know how He is related to the Father and the Son. This doctrine should be especially important to evangelicals, who place special emphasis upon the believer’s experience with God. Strangely, this has not typically been the case.
Bray’s article can be divided into three parts. In part I he summarizes the doctrine of the procession of the Holy Spirit and its history. He does this by making five observations on John 15:26. First, the verb is in the present tense, indicating a continuous action. This indicates that, unlike the begetting of the Son, the proceeding of the Spirit is not completed. It is ongoing. Second, there seems to be no significant difference between the ek prefix and the para used a few words earlier (para. tou/ patro.j evkporeu,etai). Third, many Eastern scholars have objected to procedure as the Latin translation. Fourth, in recent times many scholars have concluded that there is no real difference between the “proceeding” and the “sending” in this verse. This would favor the Eastern view, but is probably false because it would introduce a redundancy: “But when the helper comes, whom I will send you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who is sent from the Father…” Also, it would imply that the Son and Spirit are related in the same way, it would virtually turn the Spirit into Jesus’ “brother” and open the door to thinking that we can relate to the Father through the Spirit and without the Son. Finally, Bray discusses how the temporal mission of the Holy Spirit relates to His eternal relations with the Father and Son. He acknowledges that John 15:26 is primarily speaking historically and not of the eternal relations, but points out that the temporal mission has always been seen as based upon the eternal relations, “since otherwise the authenticity of our knowledge of God would be called into question.” If God’s acts in history do not reflect His eternal character and being, then what can we truly know about God? In this context he proceeds to discuss the history of the doctrine and the dispute between the East and the West. The East has wondered of the West that if the Spirit proceeds from the Father and Son, then aren’t there two sources of divinity, thereby undermining the Father’s uniqueness? The West, in turn, responds that the relation of the Spirit to the Son is parallel, but not exactly identical, to the relationship of the Spirit to the Father, and asks whether the Eastern view opens the door to Arianism.
Bray continues the discussion of the debate in the next section of his article, “The Two Positions,” where he describes the two main interpretations of the Spirit’s procession in the East. Some in the East are apparently willing to say that the Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son. In 1439 the Western church’s Council of Florence declared that this is compatible with the filioque. However, the favored position in the East is that the Spirit proceeds from the Father and rests on the Son. “The supporters of this approach killed the compromise worked out at the Council of Florence in 1439, and their modern descendants have been largely responsible for the renaissance of Orthodox theology in the twentieth century.” This approach runs the risk of opening the door to adoptionism. From the Eastern view, however, the Western view seemingly depersonalizes the Spirit.
In the third section of his article, Bray seeks to express an evangelical approach to the issue. He discusses the main features that a biblical doctrine of the procession of the Holy Spirit must uphold. We must, first of all, make sure to uphold the full personality of the Spirit, which means making sure to uphold the full equality of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Further, the relationship between the Son and Spirit must be eternal. One thing we cannot say is that any of the persons derived his divinity from any other, since that would undermine their equality. Bray thinks the Eastern church is wrong to speak of derived divinity. Next, we must acknowledge that the relationship of the Spirit to the Son is not identical to that of the Son to the Father, but is analogous. The main question in the whole issue is whether the Holy Spirit works in our hearts on Christ’s authority as well as the Father’s, or if he is sent by the Father to show us Christ. In other words, did Christ send the Spirit by divine right or divine permission? An incorrect view of procession would change one’s answers to these questions and thus risk undermining the Son’s divinity. The key for possibly reconciling the traditionally opposing views is perhaps supplied by the evangelical insistence that each Person is authotheos, God in his own right. Evangelicals, then, must not ignore this debate but have a key contribution to make to it.
Bray, Gerald. “The Double Procession of the Spirit in Evangelical Theology Today: Do We Still Need It?” JETS 41/3 (September 1998): 415-426.