Keeping Word and Spirit in balance…?

“The Word without the Spirit will dry you up;
the Spirit without the Word will blow you up.”

You may well have heard it said; you may well have nodded sagely at it; you may even have said it yourself. I’m sure I have done at least two of those things myself in the past.

But writing an assignment on the Trinity this week has reminded me how wrong it is! Subtly wrong, perhaps; but badly wrong.

Sam Allberry gives a beautiful critique of this “wise saying” in his readable little book Connected: Living in the Light of the Trinity:

The statement implies the need for a balance between the Spirit and the word, as if the two are somehow heading in different directions and need the moderating influence of each other. Such thinking misunderstands what both the word and the Spirit are in themselves.

The word of God is not a dry, dusty thing that has the effect of an industrial-strength dehumidifier. The word of God, truly apprehended, is incendiary…

Nor is the Spirit some chaotic force that charges about like a young child who’s had too many Coco-Pops for breakfast. He is the Spirit of truth after all, whose fruit is self-control…

In the bible, word and Spirit come together as speech and breath: ‘All Scripture,’ Paul tells us, ‘is God-breathed.’

Balance. Sam Allberry puts his finger right on the problem: this “wise saying” implies a need for balance. It rightly affirms that Word and Spirit are not identical (though it caricatures them prettily shoddily). But it effectively “divides the substance” of God by presenting Word and Spirit as persons who pull in slightly different directions. They don’t!

As it is put in the Athanasian Creed (the keystone of orthodox Trinitarian doctrine):

Whosoever will be saved: before all things it is necessary that he hold the Catholick Faith…That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; Neither confounding the Persons: nor dividing the Substance.

I’ll leave it there, and get back to finishing the assignment. What a wonderful God we have.


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