Book Review: The Holy Spirit

The book has the following outline. The first section is a historical survey of discussion in the church. The focus here is that the Trinity is indivisible and so the works of the Spirit are inseparable from those of the Father and the Son. So when we consider the Spirit, we must not think of him as out on his own. The second section is biblical, tracing the pervasive and increasing stress on the Spirit in creation, the history of redemption, the life and ministry of Christ, the work of the apostles, and the establishment of the church, ultimately extending to our own transformation and eventual resurrection. The book comes to its climax with a short chapter that asks how we are to discern where the Spirit is clearly at work. 

This book follows an invitation by the publisher to undertake a trilogy on the Trinitarian persons, stemming from my earlier work on the Holy Trinity (2004, 2019), especially the second edition. Further volumes on the Son and the Father are projected. I contemplate this with a sense of overwhelming responsibility. Something in me tells me that it is too much for one individual to give an account of the Holy Trinity in all its uniqueness and glory, and yet also to write of the three hypostases or “persons” distinctly. This is literally an awesome task, too great for a mere human to undertake. Yet God has made himself known to us. He has come among us in the person of his Son, living as man. He has poured out his Spirit upon us and within us. We can so speak; indeed, we must speak, if only through trembling and stammering lips. One thing is certain: this book, as all others on the subject, will be nowhere near adequate. John Stott often quoted the words of the great Charles Simeon, who upon entering the pulpit would remind himself: “One thing I know, I am a fool; of that I am certain.” We are all fools, for such wisdom as we have comes from the Holy Spirit alone.

In order to appreciate the presence and work of the Holy Spirit today, we need to ask how this has been seen over the past two thousand years of the church’s existence. Such a search is not a merely antiquarian exercise. It is vital for us to ensure that our own thinking is within the parameters shaped by more than fifty generations of those who have gone before us. How else can we be clear that our experience is demonstrably Christian? We have two millennia of accumulated wisdom, biblical exegesis, and concentrated thought to guide us. While not all of it may seem fruitful, much if not most will. It is absurd to assume that we must ground everything on our own exegesis of the Bible, while ignoring the cumulative wisdom of the people of God down through the ages.

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