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Wednesday, September 6, 2017

"The Holy Spirit" (Christopher R. J. Holmes)

TITLE: The Holy Spirit (New Studies in Dogmatics)
AUTHOR: Christopher R. J. Holmes
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2015, (224 pages).

Who is the Holy Spirit? According to Augustine, it is essentially about the "Trinitarian first principles" according to John 2:23-3:21 that show us how they generate our understanding; of new birth; and how the Holy Spirit directs us to new and greater things. Saint Thomas Aquinas also talks about the Trinitarian but focuses on the interactions among the members instead. How the Holy Spirit relates to both the Father and the Son. Karl Barth instead of talking about the 'who' focuses on the freedom of God, where the Triune God is full and sufficient. He highlights the divinity of the Holy Spirit and how it impacts the Christian community. By engaging these three theologians, author Christopher Holmes anchors his thesis on three main themes: regeneration; the Church; and tradition. All of these are based on the Person of the Holy Spirit, His Identity; and His activity. The key point that author and theologian Chris Holmes makes is that God's activity is bound in the identity of the Holy Spirit. We receive not simply a gift that is distant and unknown, but the Presence of God Himself that is up close and personal. The Holy Spirit is fully sufficient, which is another way of saying He does not need a purpose in order to exist. The Holy Spirit is Being, a Person and not some impersonal force. The Holy Spirit is constantly extending the work of God to build up the community of faith. The Holy Spirit is not a lower ranking person of the Godhead. The key idea in this book is about the theology (processions) and economy (missions) of the Holy Spirit. He advocates the alternative approach to understanding the Holy Spirit, using Sarah Coakley's thesis (théologie totale) as a launchpad. Calling it a "Spirit-leading approach to the Trinity," this thesis is based on Romans 8:9-30 where she advocates the Spirit as awakening us to the works of Christ, in particular salvation. This avoids the "linear way" of understanding the Spirit so that we can focus on the ontological aspect. This has implications for prayer because it no longer becomes a spiritual request for things but a personal longing for relationship. It gives us a fresh impetus toward seeking God through the Holy Spirit experientially. At the same time, the work avoids false dichotomies between theology and spirituality; and moves toward integration and unity. Most of all, she draws us in with the promise that a rich understanding of the Holy Spirit would lead us to a more profound understanding of the Father and the Son.

Holmes pays attention to the gospel of John and interacts with Augustine, Aquinas, Barth, as well as Coakley, and explains that knowledge of the Spirit of Christ is about participation. Being filled with the Spirit is to be known by the Spirit and to be transformed more into the likeness of Christ. He does this through three trajectories. First, "regeneration" means learning to see things from the perspective of the Holy Spirit. It means being regenerated in Christ, with the help of the Holy Spirit. The renewal of our inner beings helps us anticipate the future glory of having a new body when Christ comes again. He gives a fascinating summary of Aquinas's eschatological perspective on water in spiritual regeneration by looking at the ontology of the human body; the need for knowledge; and the relation to the Word. Knowing the Holy Spirit means knowing the depths of our regeneration in Christ. Augustine's pneumatological writings show us the fruit of love. Knowing the Spirit also helps us appreciate more of the Church in community and Tradition through creeds. That flows out of the Pentecost experience. Finally, Holmes comments on the need for Trinitarian thinking and spiritual experience. There is no dichotomy or compartmentalization. From knowledge to contemplation; from doing to being; and from understanding to experiencing; the author challenges us to seek the Holy Spirit for Who He is, more than anything else. This one point alone makes this book a worthwhile purchase.

I like how the author puts it: "The Spirit is ever extending the borders of the Word’s sovereignty. The Spirit is other-directed, that is, Christ-directed, but the Spirit is not simply a principle in relationship to Christ." He brings in the sovereignty of God over all, the humility of the Spirit, his relationship with Christ the Son, and the existential Person of the Triune Godhead. The book begins slowly with a historical treatment of the works of Augustine and Aquinas but concludes powerfully with a powerful eschatological dimension of hope. There is a certain freshness that makes the study of the Holy Spirit an enriching education on the things that had occurred and exciting expectation of great things to come.

Christopher R.J. Holmes (ThD, Wycliffe College, University of Toronto) is senior lecturer in Systematic Theology in the Department of Theology and Religion, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand. He is also an Anglican priest and is the author of Revisiting the Doctrine of the Divine Attributes: In Dialogue with Karl Barth, Eberhard Jüngel, and Wolf Krötke (2007), Ethics in the Presence of Christ (2012), as well as many articles on the theology of Karl Barth, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and on Christian doctrine.
Rating: 4.25 stars of 5.


This book has been provided courtesy of Zondervan and NetGalley without requiring a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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