As a rule, the best way to approach a really loaded question is to commence where the question itself commenced: at the beginning. Sometimes, though, it is even wiser to begin by reminding ourselves of exactly why it is that we are taking on the question in the first place.

This is one of those times,

. . . because, whether we like it or not, we live in an era when our fellow citizens tend to be “more spiritual than religious” and yet, despite that surrounding emphasis, we are not quite sure of what the “Spirit” is in mainline and/or historic and/or orthodox Christianity.

. . . because we face renewed charges and/or perhaps an internal concern about whether or not Christianity is truly a monotheistic religion. That concern has never been more important than it is in the present moment.

. . . because Pentecostalism is the fastest-growing expression of Christianity, especially in the Southern Hemisphere, where the demographic heft and bulk of global Christianity have now shifted. And whatever else it pivots on, Pentecostal Christianity is poised forever upon the engagement of the Spirit.

. . . and because, ready or not, we find ourselves alive and Christian in a time of almost unprecedented upheaval. And this upheaval which we find ourselves in the midst of is apparently going to do nothing less than attempt to discover a fuller and more complete understanding of the Trinity during our lifetime or, barring that, most certainly within the lifetimes of our children and their children.

And in view of all of that, what matters is not whether, as individual believers, we are Emergence Christians or traditional Christians.

What matters is that we have arrived at the point in our conversation where we are to begin tracing the strange story of how, as a people of faith, we Christians have envisioned, engaged, and all too often even tried to engineer the Holy Spirit over the millennia. As we do so, however, at least one imperative is upon us. That is, we must remember always—and again, without regard to whether we are Emergence Christians or traditional Christians—to do our storytelling and our discerning with an eye on our own time and with the ears of our souls and of our minds ever and always attuned to the guidance that this story can lend us in this time of our upheaval.

Excerpted from Age of the Spirit, The: How the Ghost of an Ancient Controversy Is Shaping the Church by Phyllis Tickle with Jon M. Sweeney. Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group, 2014.