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The Holy Spirit (New Studies in Dogmatics) Paperback – October 6, 2015
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'This is a worthy contribution that enriches our understanding of the Holy Spirit’s person and work by upholding the centrality of Christ.' -- George Hunsinger, Princeton Theological Seminary ― George Hunsinger, Princeton Theological Seminary
'Here is adventuresome dogmatic theology at its best. Holmes’s vibrantly Christological, exuberantly Trinitarian engagement with the Holy Spirit is demanding, invigorating theological engagement.' -- Will Willimon, Duke Divinity School ― Will Willimon, Duke Divinity School
'Guided by such luminaries as John Webster and Kevin Vanhoozer, Reformed dogmatic theology has been powerfully revitalized in recent years. Professor Holmes’s exploration of the glorious mystery of the Holy Spirit is a fruit of this renewal and a most welcome fruit indeed.' -- Matthew Levering, Mundelein Seminary ― Matthew Levering, Mundelein Seminary
'An excellent companion for those who would like to accompany Barth and Aquinas through their rigorous and biblical accounts of the Holy Spirit.' -- Eugene F. Rogers Jr., The University of North Carolina, Greensboro ― Eugene F. Rogers Jr., The University of North Carolina, Greensboro
About the Author
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. Christopher is 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.
Michael Allen (PhD, Wheaton College) is the John Dyer Trimble Professor of Systematic Theology and Academic Dean at Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando, FL.
Scott Swain is Professor of Systematic Theology at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida. He is author of several books, including The God of the Gospel: The Trinitarian Theology of Robert Jenson, and Trinity, Revelation, and Reading: A Theological Introduction to the Bible and its Interpretation. He serves as general editor (with Michael Allen) for T&T Clark’s International Theological Commentary and Zondervan’s New Studies in Dogmatics series. He is a regular blogger at Reformation21.
- Paperback : 224 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0310491703
- ISBN-13 : 978-0310491705
- Item Weight : 10.5 ounces
- Dimensions : 6 x 0.63 x 9 inches
- Publisher : Zondervan Academic (October 6, 2015)
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #913,459 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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This is the first volume released in a new series, New Studies in Dogmatics. Proposed volumes and contributors (see Zondervan Academic's blog "Common Places" for the list) look very good. This series follows Berkouwer not only in its title but also in its tradition: contributors are thoroughly Reformed. It proposes and contributes to a program of "renewal through retrieval" (15).
Sections are as follows:
Part 1: Engaging Augustine: The Divinity of the Holy Spirit
Part 2: Engaging Thomas: The Hypostatic Subsistence of the Holy Spirit
Part 3: Engaging Barth: The Other-Directed Spirit
Part 4: Correlates: Regeneration, Church, and Tradition
Part 1 answers, What is the Spirit? Part 2 answers, Who is the Spirit? Part 3 answers, How is the Spirit? And part 4 applies the conclusions of these first three parts to the particular issues mentioned above.
Holmes uses the engagements of Augustine, Thomas, and Barth with John's Gospel to support his thesis, which is basically that the immanent Trinity explains and gives rise to the economic Trinity. In his words: "There are basic reasons why the three do what they do in creating and, in turn, reconciling and perfecting humankind for a life of blessedness. Those reasons have to do with how the three are. Such talk of how the three are is necessary if we are to understand why God's work toward the outside has the shape that it does" (21).
He argues for the Spirit as the Love of God and the Gift of God. The Father and Son love one another always in the Spirit, and the Father gives the Spirit to rest upon the Son. Concerning the filioque, Holmes most often uses the language of "from the Father through the Son," but, with Thomas, he takes "through" as implying "from." The Spirit declares the Son because he just is other-directed. Holmes notes the somewhat common criticism of Barth that he marginalizes the Spirit by presenting the Spirit as one who declares the Word, the Son. (Holmes also skillfully engages Sarah Coakley on this point, who contends for a more robust understanding of the Spirit as the means of incorporation into the life of the Trinity, which Holmes appreciates but also appropriately qualifies as not taking adequately into account the "processions [as] the missions' principle of intelligibility" (39).) In response, Holmes again points to the processions as explaining the missions. "A theological vision," he says, "chastens any sense of voluntarism within the Godhead. The Son does not, for example, decide to become incarnate in conversation with the Father and the Spirit. The Son and Spirit work as they do because of their origins; their work expresses their origins" (206). In connection with this, he shrewdly notes that no one, to his knowledge, suggests that in Barth we find "sublimation of the Father by the Son" (207). "The contours of the economy are Son-centric. The Father commands us to listen to Christ, the Spirit declares Christ. And yet the telos of the economy cannot be said to be Son-centric in any straightforward way" (ibid.). I think Holmes's account of the economic Trinity makes a lot of sense, and I appreciate that he doesn't collapse the immanent Trinity into the economic Trinity.
The most interesting sections of the book, in my case, were his explanations of tradition and of contemplation as theology. He thinks of tradition as a theological category, and a salutary one--rightly, I think. "Tradition, rightly understood, is a fruit of the Spirit's continually being breathed upon his people by the glorified Christ" (194). Tradition does not thereby ascend to equal plane with Scripture, but we do value tradition for its ability in the Spirit "to help God's people hear" the W/word of God in Scripture (197). On the subject of contemplation, Holmes argues for contemplation as a participatory activity and at the same time a faithful beholding of the God whom we will see face to face in the hereafter. But this always "remains a gift. In the Spirit we really commune with the Father and the Son. That we do so now in a provisional sense and will in an immediate sense does not take away from the fact that it remains grace all the way down, and that we never cease to be creatures even as we gaze on the divine essence in a world shorn of death. And we will gaze in the Spirit, who is the Father and Son's love proceeding, the one in whom each comes to the other and in whom we forever come to them" (213).
Caveat emptor: please note that this is not primarily a work of devotional theology. Neither is it a work in which you should look to find discussions of everything the Spirit does. If you are looking for a theology of the Spirit that devotes more of its time to discussing the work of the Spirit in the economy, consider Sinclair Ferguson's volume by the same name. Note, in other words, that this is a work of joyful dogmatic theology--a work concerned primarily with how the identity of the Spirit illuminates the work of the Spirit among us.
In short, this is high-quality theology. Holmes is admirably devotional in his theological rigor, his writing is almost always clear, he helpfully appropriates his three major interlocutors while also making contributions of his own, and he, above all, is sensitive to the intellectual transformations the gospel requires. "Theology," he says, "is the fruit of a renewed vision" (207). I pray with the editors of this new series that this volume in particular and the series as a whole "will contribute to a flourishing theological culture in the church today," to the glory of God (16).
Awareness of the “state of the question” pertaining to the doctrine under discussion.
Attention to the patterns of biblical reasoning (exegetical, biblical-theological, etc.) from which the doctrine emerges.
Engagement with relevant ecclesiastical statements of the doctrine (creedal, conciliar, confessional) as well as leading theologians of the church.
Appreciation of the doctrine’s location within the larger system of theology as well as its contribution to Christian piety and practice.
The first volume released from this series centers on the person of the Holy Spirit, and is tasked with the presentation of this doctrine. Author and Professor Christopher R.J. Holmes does a fabulous job of achieving the goals of the series through this volume, evident in the structure and outline of the book. After a helpful introduction, Holmes engages this topic mainly through three lenses, each time highlighting a different theologian and his particular area of contribution to the pneumatological conversation, with much time spent in the Gospel of John.
Part One is centered around Augustine, and discusses the question, “What is the Spirit?” Part Two explores Thomas Aquinas, and considers the question, “Who is the Spirit?” Part Three looks at Karl Barth, and examines the question, “How does the Spirit do things?” Finally, Holmes closes out this book with an important chapter on the intersection between these theologians and issues they address. To this end, the author writes to help us not only with our discernment but also in our communication of this vital doctrine.
There are a lot of high points in this book. One of my favorite components of it is how Holmes has digested the works of three of the most important thinkers in church history. Specifically he has zeroed in on how their thought should train us in our own understanding of the Holy Spirit.
Holmes does a great job of guiding the reader through avoiding potential mistakes these men made in their studies. To do this, he helps his readers reflect on the importance of growing in their understanding on this doctrine. For example, in the chapter “Heavenly Things,” part of his engagement with Augustine, Holmes helps us understand the careful distinctions that Augustine made between “being-language” and “subsistence language” (65), which is a paradigm-shifting idea.
Holmes is not afraid to show the differences between these three men, and further, why we should consider them. On page 145, Holmes suggests that while Thomas may not disagree with “Barth’s rule,” he probably would find it to be incomplete. This cross-examination style is helpful, especially because it allows us to easily connect the dots throughout centuries of church history.
One of the strongest elements of this book is how Holmes shows the importance of the Holy Spirit. Many may think that this is simply academic, cloud-level talk and doesn’t really get to the ground level, but Holmes, and I would argue otherwise. “Why the talk of who and how the Spirit is in God?” Holmes asks. “Because the New Testament encourages such talk” (163). Not only this, but as Holmes shows throughout, building a more exegetical and logical explanation of the Trinity helps us not reduce Him to “the forgotten Third Person of the Trinity,” keeping us on guard against heresies, such as Arianism, Modalism, and Tritheism. This is an important topic of discussion, and an important series that’s beginning to unfold. Don’t miss the significant conversations being had in New Studies in Dogmatics.
Top reviews from other countries
That said, in this book (which is one of the first in the series), Christopher Holmes develops a theology of the Holy Spirit rooted in the doctrine of the Trinity which leans more towards the advanced theological monograph. The basic thesis of the book is to demonstrate how the role of the Spirit in the economy of salvation is rooted in the Spirit’s role in the Godhead as the one who ‘proceeds’ from the Father, through the Son. In the process of saving human beings God not only saves people but reveals who he is eternally. As Holmes puts it “It is the task of a theology of the Spirit to articulate, however haltingly, where this mission comes from. The question of the Spirit’s origin is indeed a matter of material consequence.” (212). Holmes develops his thesis in dialogue with Augustine, Aquinas, and Karl Barth, in reflection on passages of John’s Gospel, such as Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus on being born of the Spirit, and the promise of the Spirit of truth in John 14.
The major strength of the book is Holmes’s demonstration of how talk of the Spirit’s proceeding from the Father and the Son best explains the language of the New Testament, and how such a ‘relation of origin’ helps us to understand the working of the Spirit in salvation history. Having been rather suspicious of ‘relations of origin’ to begin with, I can now see how helpful such an understanding of the Trinity can be as a framework for understanding the work of God in the New Testament as well as in the world today. The implications of this trinitarian framework are drawn out more thoroughly in one of the final chapters of the book on ‘church and tradition’. In this chapter Holmes makes it clear that Pentecost was something permanent, that the church continues to live in the power of the Spirit, and that as such church tradition (the Rule of Faith) is Spirit led and is therefore a fantastic tool for pointing beyond itself to Jesus Christ, since the Spirit is the Spirit of the Son.
However, despite being a fairly slim volume, I found it rather ‘stodgy’. I think this was the result of three factors. Firstly, I found the language to be rather dense. Often it felt theological for the sake of being theological, rather than theological for the sake of clarification. And more often than not certain terms or phrases would be employed without immediate clarification or definition, which I found frustrating. For example, questions about the Holy Spirit existing as the relation of love between the Father and the Son preceded a clarification of what it meant for the Holy Spirit to be a ‘subsistent relation’ by 20 pages. And even when an explanation of subsistent relations was provided I still felt like it hadn’t been shown how a person could be identical with a relation. Holmes seemed to make a nod in this direction, but didn’t pursue it. “The Spirit is, put simply, equivalent to an originating relation. The person of the Spirit, if you want to use the language of person, is nothing but the being breathed by Father and Son. How does the Spirit originate? By the breathing of the Father and Son. “There is nothing here but relatings, no somewhats doing the relating. The language strains.”” (141).
Secondly, I think the density or stodginess of the work wasn’t helped by the choice of dialogue partners. No doubt each had something relevant to add to the development of Holmes’s thesis, and the development of a Reformed perspective on anything has to at least mention Karl Barth in passing. But I think that dialoguing with theologians like Barth often means that a theologian slips into using a kind of Barthianese. That isn’t to say that Barth doesn’t have helpful things to say. It’s just that his theology often assumes a language and framework rather alien to contemporary evangelicals which make understanding what he has to say rather difficult. I would have liked to see Holmes’s dialogue with Barth supplemented by the work of other Reformed theologians who are perhaps not as immediately inaccessible. For example, John Calvin, who has been described as a ‘theologian of the Holy Spirit’ only gets mentioned on three pages. I’m not a Calvinist, and I know that Reformed theology is much broader than ‘Calvinism’ as such, but I would have expected a greater engagement with such figures. On the other hand, you can’t dialogue with everyone, and as it stands Holmes’s choice of dialogue partners gets him where he wants to go. Nevertheless, in the development of his argument I think it would have been helpful to engage B. B. Warfield critically in his criticisms of ‘relations of origin’, or Jurgen Moltmann on ‘trinitarian hermeneutics’ and the reversibility of divine relating.
One final thing that I think contributed to the stodge is Holmes’s lack of reference to the practical reality of the Spirit in the life of the church. I’m thinking specifically of how the doctrine of the Holy Spirit relates to a church that exists in the wake of charismatic renewal. In seeking to provide a theology of the Spirit for a contemporary evangelical audience I was hoping for a constructive application of Holmes’s thesis to the fruits and gifts of the Spirit. However, not a single mention of charismatic renewal was made. On reflection a reader could make these applications in his own time, but I would have liked Holmes to address charisms specifically.
In conclusion, despite being rather stodgy, Holmes provides a theological vision of the Holy Spirit which seeks to explain the mission of the Spirit in relation to the Spirit’s origin in the Godhead. Doxologically, this leads to a worship of God the Father, through God the Son, in the power of God the Holy Spirit. Anyone seeking to reflect theologically or write academically on the Holy Spirit will need to engage with this volume.