In preparation for Mark Keown’s upcoming title, Pneumaformity: Transformation by the Spirit in Paul, the Kregel Academic team asked Keown a few questions about his inspiration for writing, the changes within his own perspective, and the influence that a book like this will have. Pneumaformity is scheduled to release on March 26, 2024 — click here for more information and to preorder now!
What prompted you to write Pneumaformity?
My first thoughts for writing such a book came when writing my EEC commentary on Philippians. I noted many times Paul speaks of God’s work in the Christian life without referring to the Spirit directly. For example, in Phil 4:13, Paul writes, “I can do all things by the one who strengthens me.” Here, “the one” can be the Father, the Son, or the Spirit. Looking over Paul’s letters, I recognized then that the apostle used interchangeable language to speak of the work of God in believers. Yet, in that, we live in the post-Pentecost age of the Spirit, the Spirit does all this work; or better, God acts in the present in and through Christ, by the Spirit. This perspective led me to list all the verses in Paul that involve God at work in the believer and world.
I then noted that most studies, such as that of Gordon Fee’s monumental and brilliant work God’s Empowering Presence on the Spirit, focus on texts explicitly mentioning pneuma (or ruach). Now aware that Paul uses interchangeable theological language to describe the work of God and the Son by the Spirit, I felt a fresh study was justified. I proposed engaging with Fee as my study’s leading conversation partner. I had no idea when I set out that Gordon would die as I completed the draft, and I feel greatly indebted to him (and James Dunn, whose work was also helpful) for excellent studies in the same space.
Alongside such insights into the Spirit, my study of Philippians and especially engagement with Michael Gorman’s work, opened my eyes to the importance of cruciformity in Paul’s understanding. My research in Paul led me to believe that the fundamental work of the Spirit in believers is to transform them inwardly to be more and more like Jesus in character and the exercise of our humanity and gifts. Noting other helpful terms to describe this process, such as Christoformity and resurrectiformity, I coined the term “pneumaformity”—transformation by the Spirit. The Spirit is the power of the resurrection in believers, forming them into the image of God’s Son, a process that will be completed at our resurrection. In the meantime, we are to yield to the Spirit’s constant inner impulses and be increasingly formed as we take up our crosses and follow Jesus.
The final reason is personal. I believe in God—Father, Son, and Spirit—and so I know I am a child of God, saved from sin and its consequences, justified by grace through faith, to inherit eternal life. Knowing this, I want to live every moment of every day, pleasing God and being a useful instrument in his mission to save humankind and renew his world. The key to this is to be led by the Spirit. So, I set out on this journey wanting to know the answer to this question—what does it mean to be led by the Spirit? My goal, then, is to live this way. This study has helped me become more attentive to God, hear his whispers, respond, and live a life that makes my Savior proud. That is the life of the Spirit. There is no other way to live. I hope others find it helpful as they seek to do the same.
How did your perspective on this topic change throughout the writing process?
I found my understanding of the work of the Spirit has expanded exponentially as I have worked through the study. Rather than enter the debates about which OT texts refer to the Holy Spirit, I approached the OT looking for any references to the Spirit and associated ideas to see what may have influenced Paul as he developed his pneumatology. I was blown away by the extent of the OT’s understanding of the Spirit. There is far more there than I had realized.
The work of the Spirit in creation, history, and the missional task is another area that has grown a lot. Paul’s understanding of God’s sovereignty continues to perplex us and points to the ongoing work of the Spirit encountering people constantly. I came to a tentative view that there is no general revelation. All revelation is special in that when we encounter God, say in nature, we experience the Spirit’s nudging, making what appears general (even if it does not have the clarity of meeting Jesus directly or the fullness of the gospel).
I feel I have a better grasp on the work of the Spirit at the proclamation of the gospel—the Spirit bears the sword of the word of God and brings God’s word dynamically into the human heart and mind. Notions familiar to me—such as being baptized, anointed, and sealed by the Spirit—came alive.
I also loved exploring how the Spirit saves us as individuals and glues us together with others in the body of Christ. While the Spirit is active at the moment of our justification, sanctification, and cleansing, the relational Spirit instantly impels us toward others in God’s family. We are together formed into the body of Christ, the Temple of the Spirit. Christianity is not an individual sport, and we are to journey together in the Spirit with others. Nor does it stop there; the Spirit pushes us out of the church to encounter unbelievers. As we engage with them, we are to be led by the Spirit in our posture toward them (love), actions, and words we speak.
One chapter that blew my mind is where I considered suffering and the Spirit. I had expected the chapter to be about the Spirit’s support in suffering. Indeed, I did discuss this at length as Paul frequently mentions the comfort of the Spirit. However, I had not previously appreciated the Spirit’s role in bringing us into times of suffering as he leads us in our lives, but always to further God’s work in us and the world. This insight helps me explain why it can be so hard to be a Christian despite having the Spirit—the Spirit leads us as God wills, and as in the life of Christ, that means suffering for his sake. However, he never abandons us, strengthens us as we pass through it, even to death, or leads us out. Furthermore, in the crucible of this suffering, the Spirit forms us and fills up the sufferings of Christ.
I also feel much more attuned to the impulses of the Spirit, realizing the need to destress and be quiet, at least inwardly, to hear/feel/sense the nudges of God. I am on a personal quest to slow down and listen to God’s “music” as I walk through life and encounter others God loves as much as he loves me.
What material do you wish you could have included in the book but were unable to because of space constraints?
Due to the grace of Kregel, who has allowed me an extension on the word count, I do not feel anything is missing from the work that was essential. I am delighted to be permitted to say all that I wanted to say.
How do you see this project influencing your future ministry in academia and the church?
For a while now, I have been urging those to whom I minister that the key to life in the present age is the Spirit. However, we must not drive a wedge between Jesus and the Spirit. The Spirit is forming Christ in us, transforming us into the image of the Son; pneumaformity is Christoformity, and at its heart is cruciformity driven by the power of resurrectiformity. And, of course, all of these are, in fact, Theoformity as we are formed to be like our Triune God—in whom we live and have our being. So, I will encourage people in the future to cultivate a deep relationship with the Spirit that transcends some of our viewpoints received in our traditions, whether Pentecostal, charismatic, or conservative. Indeed, many of our traditions function with a reductionist pneumatology that reduces our ability to fully understand what God is doing through his Spirit through Christ.
The Spirit is our everything, and every part of our lives is to be Spirit-led. I will encourage others to find ways to step away from the drivenness of our workaholic cultures and make it a habit to pause, hear, and respond. We have to simplify and slow down. We have to work by the power and resources of the Spirit and not purely our driven programs and visions.
My future work will focus on evangelistic mission as I move from NT studies into a role developing evangelistic leaders. I will remain a biblical scholar in this space but encourage people to explore what it means to be led by the Spirit and make the changes to their lives that will enable them to be effective disciples. The Spirit is God’s great gift to us, by whom he and his Son live in us. Our challenge is to live by the Spirit. Our church and world need new generations of truly Spirit-led, Spirit-formed, and Spirit-empowered people of Christ’s character who exercise the gifts given to him to the point of death, even death on a cross. We need people who fully understand the scope of the Spirit’s work in creation, history, society, church, and individual people more than ever. If more and more Christians can genuinely live by the Spirit, imagine how the God who created the cosmos can transform it.