Welcome, Holy Spirit, Gordon T. Smith. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021.
Summary: Beginning with the metaphors for the Holy Spirit, articulates a theology of the Holy Spirit that spans theological traditions and invites readers to be receptive to a deeper experience of the Spirit’s work.
When we confess “I believe in the Holy Spirit,” we often have little idea of what we are confessing. Gordon T. Smith thinks there are four important questions to ask about the Holy Spirit: the relation of the Spirit and Jesus, the relation between the Spirit and the created order, the relation between the Spirit and the scriptures, and the relation between the Spirit and the church.
In this work, Smith articulates a theology of the Holy Spirit that seeks to span the major traditions of Christianity in answering these questions. He goes further. He invites us to consider our own tradition, experience, and what it might mean to welcome the Holy Spirit into our lives in a deeper and transforming way.
He begins by reviewing our metaphors for the Holy Spirit as wind or breath, oil or anointing, fire, running water, and hovering dove. He notes that all of these are images of movement and life. The images emphasize the dynamic rather than static character of the Spirit, but do not fully capture the personal character of the Spirit’s being.
He turns to two chapters on the Spirit in specific books of the Bible. He looks at the link between the ascension and Pentecost in Luke and Acts. We often focus on one at the expense of the other and make it all about Jesus but fail to live in the power of the Spirit, or all about the Spirit but leaving Jesus “in the rearview mirror.” He then turns to the gospel of John and exploring the person of Holy Spirit and the Triune God and both the wisdom and heresies of the early church.
He then moves back to creation and the interesting idea of materiality infused with the breath of God and the hope that the one who brought creation to life will also be the one by whom creation is renewed. He concludes the chapter beautifully by inviting those of us who walk in the Spirit to tend the garden. From bringing life to creation, Smith turns to the work of the Spirit in bringing us to new life in Christ and how this might be reflected in our rites of initiation. He notes the two views of the coming of the Holy Spirit as either a two stage process, or integral with new life in Christ. Rather than argue for one or the other, he argues for incorporating rites of Spirit initiation along with water baptism. Along with this, our catechesis ought to prepare new believers for the work of the Triune God in their lives, including continuing receptivity to the Spirit’s indwelling fullness. In an interlude chapter, he warns against idolizing experience rather than the transformative work of the Holy Spirit in the ordinary practices of our lives.
Smith traces this process and the importance of casting vision for growth toward maturity, realizing we are both dependent on the grace of the Spirit to grow and that the ultimate fulfillment of this comes when we meet Christ face to face. We learn step by step to walk in the Spirit and pray in the Spirit, attending to the Spirit’s promptings in our life. This takes us into the question of the Spirit and the Word. He invites us into reading the Spirit-inspired text with both careful study and dependence on the Spirit for illumination, being neither wooden biblicists nor sentimentalists.
Finally he considers the Spirit and the church, both local and global. He articulates a Spirit ecclesiology that emphasizes unity, the ordered expression of the Spirit’s gifts in worship that occurs in song, word, and sacrament. He presses home the work of the Spirit in discerning church governance and that we ought be open to the immediacy of the Spirit’s guidance. He suggests some intriguing ideas of what it means for the Spirit to go before the church in mission and the need to be attentive to the Spirit’s presence in the cultures and even other religions that we engage. While in every situation there will be discontinuity between gospel and culture, we are also wise to look for how the way has been prepared. The Spirit can give discernment, pointing toward Christ, expressing the winsome fruit of his presence, and helping us to “remember the poor.”
As Smith summarizes, all this is a call to both intentionality in understanding the person and work of the Holy Spirit and receptive attentiveness to welcome Him into our lives. This book is a wonderful primer that helps accomplish what it advocates. Smith, as always, writes with clarity and precision and warmth, constantly moving from theological truth to implications for the life of the believer and the church. There is ecumenicity at its best, focusing both on common ground truths we may all embrace, and complementary insights from different traditions, including that of Pentecostalism, and his own tradition in the Christian and Missionary Alliance, reacquainting a new generation with some of the works of A. W. Tozer. In all of this, Smith’s intent would be for us to understand how we may experience the work of the Spirit as we grow in holiness, learn to pray, worship and work with God’s people, and engage in God’s mission. I concluded the book with his prayer, “Welcome, Holy Spirit!”
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.