Review: Welcome, Holy Spirit

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.

Review: The Holy Spirit in the New Testament

The Holy Spirit in the New Testament, William A. Simmons. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021.

Summary: A book by book study of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament from a Pentecostal perspective.

Globally, Pentecostalism is the fastest growing movement within Christianity. At the heart of this movement is the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer. William A. Simmons argues that the term “Pentecostal” ought not be seen as a label but as a lens colored by the living presence of the Spirit of God. He writes:

Even so, what lies at the heart of Pentecostal so described? In brief, Pentecostal means the collapse of the transcendent. A Pentecostal lens is framed by this one central premise: God has become immanent among his people by way of the vibrant presence of the Holy Spirit (Rev. 21:3). The power, the presence, and the praxis of the Spirit has invaded the world and established God’s people as a beachhead for the reclamation of all creation (Jas. 1:18). In this sense there is a decidedly incarnational aspect to the Pentecostal interpretive grid. The Spirit inhabits the redeemed, and by way of the preeminent sacraments flowing from Jesus and the Scriptures, the Spirit empowers believers to see things as they really are (1 Cor. 2:11-12).”

Simmons proposes that this lens is both holistic and integrated, comprehensive and cosmic and that the global growth of Pentecostalism requires an exegetically sound study of the New Testament through this lens.

What Simmons does in this book is the exegetical work necessary for a New Testament biblical theology of the Spirit. He proceeds book by book identifying a theme verse and introducing that theme, taking a “pause for prayer,” discussing key passages in the book concerning the Holy Spirit, summarizing, and then discussing “what it means for me.”

There were a number of insights that I appreciated:

  • The powers of the day, whether of Empire, religious establishment, or the demons were no match for Jesus Spirit empowered ministry (Mark).
  • The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Joy (Luke).
  • He is the Spirit of Truth who grants us to be born into new Life directing us in the Way of Jesus (John)
  • He is the Spirit of Adoption, enabling us to know God as “Abba” (Romans).
  • He is the indwelling and gift-giving Spirit who testifies to the holiness of our bodies as temples and gives gifts for the wholeness and holiness of Christ’s body, the Church (1 Corinthians)
  • He is the Spirit whose fullness empowers our worship (Ephesians)
  • He is the Spirit who empowers for ministry (1 Timothy)
  • He warns us of the dangers of spiritual drift from the supremacy of Christ (Hebrews)
  • He speaks to us in our suffering with Christ, reminding us of the blessing and glory in which we share (1 Peter)
  • We are to hear what the Spirit says to the churches and discern between the Spirit of Jesus and lying spirits (Revelation).

I have to come back to Matthew though. Simmons asked some questions there I found myself pondering throughout the book: “To what extent am I really open to the leading of the Spirit?” and “When we say that we want all the Spirit has for us, do we really mean all?” A bit of self-disclosure here. After my early Christian experience in the Jesus movement of the early 1970’s, I reacted against some of the Pentecostal aspects of this movement–the insistence on a “second experience” and the speaking in tongues. I found none of that polemic here but simply the encouragement that God would powerfully indwell all of us, making God’s self present to us through the Spirit, and not to close ourselves off from some of the more unusual manifestations of that, whether it be tongues, dreams, miraculous works, or the quieter marks of the fruit of the Spirit in our lives.

The Holy Spirit is all over the New Testament. And Pentecostalism is all over the world. William A. Simmons asks if perhaps we need a new lens as we read Scripture, and perhaps new wine in our lives. I hope I am not to old for that new wine, nor too deaf and blind and hidebound to heed the Spirit’s leading. Come 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.

Review: The Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit (Theology for the People of God), Gregg R. Allison & Andreas J. Kostenberger. Nashville: B & H Academic, 2020.

Summary: First in a new series, a biblical and systematic theology of the Holy Spirit, evangelical and continuationist, but not pentecostal.

If the inaugural volume of this new series, “Theology for the People of God,” is any indication, this should be an outstanding set. Each volume pairs two theologians, one in biblical theology, and one in systematic theology to provide an integrated approach deeply rooted in the biblical text.

This approach forms the organization of this book in which the first half is devoted to biblical theology, carefully considering each relevant text on the Holy Spirit in each book and major portion of scripture, followed by synthesizing the teaching of all of scripture on various theological aspects of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. It is an approach that is thorough, covering the ground, while providing notes and references for those who wish to dig deeper.

A few highlights for each part. In the biblical theology section, each chapter, or sometimes, subsection, provides a chart with all the references to the Holy Spirit and a phrase summarizing the content. One old Testament highlight was the discussion of the Holy Spirit in Isaiah, anointing the Messiah, and empowering the servant of the Servant Songs to bring good news to the poor, and the Spirit’s role in the new exodus and the new creation.

The New Testament portion was lengthier, with treatment of the gospels, Acts, the Pauline works, the general epistles, and Revelation. Kostenberger summarizes the Spirit’s work in Acts with seven points that will preach!

  1. The Spirit is a person and clearly divine.
  2. The Spirit establishes the eschatological messianic community of the exalted Jesus.
  3. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of mission.
  4. The Spirit fills all believers.
  5. The Spirit is the Spirit of prophecy.
  6. The Spirit convicts people and holds them to moral standards.
  7. The Holy Spirit directs the affairs of the church.

The section on systematic theology left me at times worshiping God the Spirit and our wondrous Triune God. After an introduction laying out methodology and themes, Allison begins with the deity, the intratrinitarian relations and trinitarian processions. Careful discussion delineates both the inseparability of the works of Father, Son, and Spirit, and yet what may be said to be specific to each. Then, in successive chapters, the author discusses the Spirit in creation and providence, in relation to the inspiration and illumination of scripture, a fascinating chapter distinguishing the Spirit and angelic beings, the Spirit’s relation to human beings and sin, the Spirit’s work Christ, salvation, the church, and the future. The author addresses contemporary issues in pneumatology (the three ages, Spirit-emphasizing movements, and the Spirit and theology of religions). The concluding chapter is applicative, addressing our worship of the Spirit, our reliance on the Spirit’s illuminating work, our thanksgiving for the Spirit’s application of Christ’s work in our life, and keeping in step with and being guided by the Spirit.

The book is marked by a clarity of language and explanation and summary throughout, making this a great text for a course in theology or for the lay person wishing to understand more deeply the person and work of the Spirit. One possible criticism of the work is little engagement with theologians in the developing world. Inclusion of theological discussions and issues outside the white European and North American contexts will make this a more broadly useful text. The authors do engage pentecostal and charismatic theology, appreciative of the emphasis on the ministry of the Spirit, affirming, against some Reformed understanding, the continuation of the gifts and empowering work of the Spirit for mission. However they would associate the baptism of the Holy Spirit with conversion and not as a second and subsequent act. The response is gracious, and they denounce the vitriol that has often existed. The concluding pastoral applications are worth the price of the book.

In sum, this book sets a high bar for this series, marked as it is by an approach in which systematic theology is built on biblical theology. It models this work well for young pastors and theologians and offers the clarity of teaching that both preserves doctrinal integrity, and warmth of devotion.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: Make Way for the Spirit

Make Way for the Spirit

Make Way for the SpiritChristoph Friedrich Blumhardt (edited by Wolfgang J. Bittner, translated by Ruth Rhenius, Simeon Zahl, Miriam Mathis, and Christian T. Collins Winn. Walden, NY: Plough Publishing, 2019.

Summary: A reflection on the ministry of Johann Christoph Blumhardt by his son, identifying both the continuity, and divergence of their convictions.

Christoph Friedrich Blumhardt had to fill large shoes. His father Johann Christoph Blumhardt had been at the center of a great awakening around the village of Mottlingen, and a later ministry at Bad Boll, that Christoph took over at his father’s death. It began with the deliverance of a young woman from demonic powers and resulted in the repentance of many villagers, especially from occult practices as well as other sins, and the introduction by Johann of granting absolution, which had a profound effect. Johann weathered critical scrutiny and criticism by church authorities, walking a delicate boundary of exercising a Spirit-directed and empowered ministry while submitting to church strictures. Another Plough publication, The Awakening (reviewed here), describes that ministry, with its rallying cry, “Jesus is victor!” in much greater detail.

One of the underlying ideas of this book is the forward moving work of the Spirit of God throughout history. The problem, as Blumhardt, the son, sees it, is that people often do not won’t to go on with the Spirit. Instead of an empowered, apostolic church defeating the powers of darkness, the church substituted structures and creeds and institutional power while remaining Christian in name.

What happened at Mottlingen illustrated both. There was a resolute struggle against the dark powers, and real breakthroughs in the advance of the kingdom in the lives of the people of Mottlingen. Yet according to Johann Blumhardt, ultimately people sought spiritual and physical healing apart from completely giving themselves to the cause of God. They sought their own comfort rather than the kingdom and righteousness of God,

While Johann admires much in his father’s life, particularly his steadfast obedience to the Lord’s leading, he faults him for being too eager to please both the people who came to him, and the church authorities, when for the sake of the ministry of the Spirit, they should have been resisted. He also describes three hopes his father entertained, that he affirms, and three false staffs that led to the disappointment of those hopes in his father’s time:

  1. The hope of a new and continuing outpouring of the Spirit. The false staff was the visible church, whose structures were not able to receive the outpoured Spirit.
  2. The hope for God’s Zion, a “city” to which the nations would stream. The false staff was mission that spread the gospel without building up Zion.
  3. The hope for the defeat of death on earth and the false staff was personal salvation and a hope of heavenly bliss that saw death as a pathway rather than the last enemy.

This last was something I had serious questions about, even though I appreciated the emphasis on a ministry of life focused on bodily resurrection. He rightly points to ways we too easily give way to death in both our physical and mental dispositions. And certainly in our own day, we witness a culture of death about which many Christians are relatively complacent. But if I’m reading Blumhardt right, it seems he believed the defeat of death on earth, without mention of the return of Christ and the resurrection, a real possibility, albeit one thwarted by wrong belief. Blumhardt’s references are somewhat allusive, and this was one point where I wish I could have asked him to tell me more, because it seems what he proposes is unorthodox at this point.

Some of the most challenging parts of this book have to do with the issue of progressing so far and then stopping, settling rather than continuing to make way for the Spirit. Connected to this is an embrace of comfort rather than a passion for the rule of God being extended, what he refers to as Zion. There is also some insightful observations about the link between physical and spiritual healing and how this should be approached in pastoral care.

What Blumhart does in his reflection on his father’s ministry, and the Spirit’s bidding for his own work, is explore the question of why awakening or revival does not continue to flourish and grow. He explores both the inner and outer dynamics that have an impact. The editing and compiling of Blumhardt’s papers into this volume (one of the reasons it may seem repetitive at points) is a gift to those who both study and seek revival. Along with scholars from Jonathan Edwards to Richard Lovelace, this study offers rich resources for those who seek to prepare both themselves and the people of God for such awakening work.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: Encountering God through Expository Preaching

Encountering God through Expository Preaching

Encountering God through Expository PreachingJim Scott Orrick, Brian Payne, Ryan Fullerton. Nashville: B & H Academic, 2017.

Summary: An argument for expository preaching as the means by which the people of God encounter the living God through the word of God, and an explication of the practices in preparation that lead to this in experience through the preached word.

The authors of this book both define what preaching is and set out their purpose in an opening statement in answer to the question, “what is preaching.” They respond:

“Preaching occurs when a holy man of God opens the Word of God and says to the people of God, ‘Come and experience God with me in this text.’ Encountering God through Expository Preaching is an explanation of this sentence.”

This book accomplishes what it promises and more. It sets forth the high calling, privilege, and sheer joy of preaching. The writers begin with the “holy man” and assert that godly character, and particularly that one is progressing in one’s own growth is critical to preaching that leads people to experience God. Giftedness is not enough, and often will result both in the cult of the preacher, and disappointment.

Then they turn to the defense of expository preaching, and particularly expository preaching that gives careful attention to the context of the text within the passage, the book, and ultimately the whole Bible. Particular emphasis is given to situating the text within God’s unfolding covenant purposes. This is not mere verse by verse explanation but canonical and biblical theological exposition, where the themes of scripture and the whole of scripture shape the treatment of a particular passage. While preference is given to preaching through books of scripture, they allow that topical preaching is both warranted by scripture itself, and that it may be done expositorily.

The authors conclude the first part with three chapters on the importance of the Holy Spirit in preaching that invites people to experience God. Careful exegesis and good homiletic practice are insufficient to transform our listeners. The Holy Spirit illumines both us and those who hear the Word preached. He emboldens the preacher, particularly in the face of opposing powers, he lights us up, fills us with love and gives us words. Finally, we constantly rely on Him through relying upon His Word, upon the Lord’s gospel, upon God in prayer, and upon the prayers of our people.

They then focus on early preparation. What I found is that this did not concern exegetical practice or turning exegetical outlines into preaching outlines, as so many similar texts do. To some degree they already addressed this in the chapters on context, and will in broad outline in the following chapters. But they begin by focusing on the importance of delivery, and also the reading of the preaching text–itself a form of preaching when done well. One of the most trenchant observations made here is that good teachers are able to anticipate how their words sound in the ears of their hearers.

The next three chapters are built around a little rhyme suggesting four questions each sermon must answer:

How does it fit?

What does it say?

How is it built?

Why does it stay?

“How does it fit?” answers the question of how the text fits into the overall context of the Bible. “What does it say?” focuses on what needs to be said about the message of this particular text to one’s audience. “How is it built?” looks at the way a passage develops its main idea. “Why does it stay?” is about why this passage has lasting relevance and how it may be relevant in the lives of the preacher and the hearers.

The final three chapters weigh the respective advantages and disadvantages of preaching from a manuscript, preaching from an outline, and preaching without notes. While a manuscript provides for precision of utterance, and avoids rabbit trails, and an outline helps with remembering what one wishes to say, the writers come down preferring the practice of preaching without notes. They favor this both in terms of what it requires of the preacher in terms of personal holiness, an outline based on the text, a simple and memorable outline, and reliance on the Holy Spirit. It also allows for better communication with and engagement with one’s audience, including more eye contact, and more natural movement and vocal variety.

What this book does is de-emphasize some of the more technical aspects of sermon preparation to focus on the spirituality of preaching–the character of the preacher, one’s own encounter with God in the text through the ministry of the Spirit, and reliance upon the Spirit in both preparation and proclamation.

While there is much of worth for anyone who aspires to preach, it should be noted that a premise of this book is that the office of preacher is limited to men–evident in references to “a holy man, ” and in the argument for preaching without notes that “it encourages masculinity” and that “for preaching to be effective, the preacher must be a masculine man” (p. 200).

While I do not agree with this premise, I found much of worth in this book, and particularly the strong argument for expository preaching, that this is really to expose God’s word under the power of God’s Spirit, so that the people of God may experience, worship, and obey the living God. It has been my joy to experience the living God under the expository  preaching of both holy men and women of God, and I can’t imagine why those charged with preaching the Word of God would want anything less or else.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.


Review: Reading Your Life’s Story

Reading Your Life's Story

Reading Your Life’s StoryKeith R. Anderson. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2016.

Summary: An exploration of the work of spiritual mentoring using the idea of attentive listening to the Holy Spirit and a person to “read” one’s life, with practical instruction on the mentoring process from beginning to ending.

It is not uncommon to speak of one’s life story. The challenge is seeing the story line when you are the one within that story and life appears to be simply a series of relationships and events, and perhaps accomplishments. What Keith R. Anderson proposes is that often it is in the company of another person joining one in listening to the Holy Spirit that the threads of the narrative, or the dots in the picture are connected in a way that makes sense of our lives, and the unique ways in which God may be working in and through them. Anderson calls this “reading.” Here is how he writes about this in his first chapter, “Reading with a Consecrated Purpose”:

“We live in what we have built. The stories of our life become a house we inhabit with its
limitations, eccentricities, mistakes, hidden meanings, and crafted beauty. In this book I hope to offer ways to help us all read the story of our life through the centuries-deep practice of spiritual mentoring. Stories are a way to find coherence and meaning in what seems random, episodic, or even chaotic.”

The first part of this book develops the idea of spiritual mentoring. He differentiates spiritual mentoring from either spiritual direction or spiritual friendship as “an intentional, planned, repeated and focused set of conversations about the life of the mentee in the presence of the Holy Spirit.” After introducing this idea, in successive chapters he writes about God as the author of our stories, about our lives as the text and the different ways we read stories, about mentors as coreaders, and the importance of spiritual friendship in the mentoring process. Finally he speaks of spiritual mentors as imperfect people, and that it is in our authentic vulnerability as great sinners who depend on the mercy of God, that we do our work. He writes, “Effective mentors are honest about their own brokenness and the holes within.”

The second part of the book traces the movements of the spiritual mentoring relationship from beginning to ending. I found the chapter on ending especially helpful, because he focuses on ending well, even if a mentoring relationship hasn’t gone well. It is a bring of closure, and what will happen next. It is not just ending but sending, which he describes as “s/ending.” Other chapters focus on starting well with practical helps on the initial interview for mentor and mentee. He charts what a mentoring session might look like. He talks about the practice of wisdom in helping people begin to understand that the life of faith is a long walk. He talks about the pacing of the mentoring relationship and how mentees can prepare for each session and he addresses accountability.

One of features of this book is that each chapter ends with a brief reflection focused around either a metaphor for spiritual mentoring or some useful resource or concept. Metaphors include hospitality, farming, ecology, prayer, and geography. He describes the “core curriculum” mentoring and the work of spiritual mentoring as “disillusionment,” that is the casting aside of our illusions to embrace truth. These short reflections both stand alone, and round out the framework Anderson gives us in this book and were a highlight of the book for me.

The book concludes with a “Mentor’s Library” and several appendices on lectio divina, how spiritual mentors deal with transference and countertransference, discernment questions for choosing a mentor, and dealing with differences between mentor and mentee. The appendix on transference and countertransference seemed to me especially important in dealing with realities other counselors encounter, and the importance for spiritual mentors to have their own mentors and accountability.

In this book, Anderson gives us an account at once practical and yet not prosaic. He helps us understand this deeply human and yet spiritual relationship, and offers wisdom that comes out of a lifetime of being mentored and mentoring. This is a valuable book both for those who mentor and those who seek mentoring.

Review: Cultivating the Fruit of the Spirit

cultivating the fruit of the spirit

Cultivating the Fruit of the Spirit, Christopher J. H. Wright. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2017.

Summary: A study elaborating what it means to grow in Christlikeness looking at each of the nine fruit of the Spirit.

“Heavenly Father, I pray that I may live this day in your presence and please you more and more.

Lord Jesus, I pray that this day I may take up my cross and follow you.

Holy Spirit, I pray that this day you will fill me with yourself and cause your fruit to ripen in my life:  love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”

This is a portion of a prayer prayed by the late John R. W. Stott each morning. Perhaps, as author, and Stott’s successor in leading the Langham Partnership, Christopher J. H. Wright notes, it is no surprise that many who met Stott felt he was the most Christlike person they’d ever met.

This is a book about growing to be more like Christ through cultivating in one’s life the nine fruit of the Spirit the apostle Paul lists in Galatians 5:22-23. Wright nicknames these the “9-A-Day” through which our character is formed to be like Christ. He begins this study by setting Paul’s list in its Galatian context. Paul argues for the gospel of being reckoned right with God by our faith alone apart from works. Then he addresses what may be a criticism–that in rejecting legalism, haven’t you opened the door to license? Rather, what comes through the Christ who indwells us by the Holy Spirit is freedom from slavery either to law or to licentious sin. This Spirit, as we root our lives to Him each day in prayer, study, and faithful obedience bears the fruit of Christ’s character in us over the course of our lives.

Wright goes on in the next nine chapters to consider each quality in Paul’s list. His approach is not to tell a lot of stories but to focus on the biblical material about each of these qualities, both how we see this quality in the character of God, and what this looks like in the life of a Christ-follower. Much like the teaching of John Stott, Christ gives is clear and memorable outlines to help us reflect on each of these qualities, and concludes with practical application to everyday life. For example, in the chapter on “kindness” his subheadings are “Kindness and the Character of God,” “Kindness as a Quality of Those Who Worship God,” “Kindness and the Example of Jesus,” and “Kindness as a Habit of Life.” He concludes this chapter with two questions that may help us in our practice of kindness:

  • What would I do for people if were the Christ?
  • What would I do for people if they were the Christ?

Wright concludes each chapter with a few reflection and application questions. An additional feature at the end of each chapter is a link to a video of Wright talking about the particular fruit of the Spirit. For a sample, here is a link in which Wright introduces the series.

This is a book I wish I had as a young Christian. I understood that I had become a Christian through the work of Christ. But I found little help in what it meant to be a Christian, to live a life marked increasingly by the character of the Christ I was following. This is such a helpful study that offers hope that God, through his Spirit will indeed work out his character in our lives as we root our lives in Christ, heeding his word, gathering with his people, yielding ourselves in prayer, and faithfully acting on what he says.

I also appreciated the combination of scripturally-based instruction, and thoughtful application throughout. This comment about patience is just one example:

“That kind of patience is sadly needed more than ever in Christian churches–and even (maybe especially) among Christian leaders. In the world of instant blogging and commenting (and comments on comments), patience seems to be a very neglected virtue. Some people simply can’t wait to put their word in, get their point across, speak their mind — however harmful and hurtful it may be. We have become very impatient — in attitudes, communication, and expectations” (p. 79).

This strikes me as a great book that one might use for personal reflection, for discussion with a younger believer, or in a group. In that context, using Wright’s videos to set up discussion of each chapter could work very well.

It also strikes me that this work, unassuming as it may seem, is vital in our day. I observe on one hand Christians bemoaning the flight of millenials from the church and at the same time grasping at power and influence in American culture. Wright’s quote of a Hindu professor points to why the Christlikeness of lives characterized by the fruit of the Spirit is so important:

“If you Christians lived like Jesus, India would be at your feet tomorrow.”

Dare we believe it could be so of our own country?

Going Deeper: Listen to Your Lawyer!

On several occasions, I’ve learned that lawyers can be quite helpful and save one a great deal of grief. We had the benefit of a lawyer walking us through the complexities of probate. In my work, I’ve learned that a lawyer can save a great deal of grief for me and our organization by reviewing a contract. Sadly, I’ve sometimes recommended lawyers to friends who needed someone to represent their interests in a divorce, or to help them navigate their way through our country’s labyrinthine immigration laws.

Our message this past Sunday focused on John 15:26-16:11 and this sometimes mysterious person of the Trinity we call “the Holy Spirit”, or in older times “the Holy Ghost.” Sometimes the language suggests this vague, ethereal being. At other times, we are tempted to view the Holy Spirit as a kind of “spiritual battery pack” who charges us up to serve God.

Instead, Pastor Rich pointed out the word picture of the Holy Spirit as our Advocate. Sometimes paraclete, the word translated in the NIV as “advocate” is translated as “counselor”. Rich pointed out that we can use that language if we think, not of a therapist, but of a legal counselor. In French, the word for lawyer is avocat. The idea is one who stands alongside us when we are on trial, who empowers us by his presence with us rather than some vague spiritual charge. He is also one who advocates on our behalf and does not leave us defenseless.

I can think of all kinds of ways I face “trials” in which I need this kind of counsel, this kind of advocacy:

  • When I face difficult choices and wonder which is the right path to choose
  • When I face a challenging ethical situation and want to do the right thing
  • When I am sharing with a friend and we are talking about faith and my friend raises a difficult objection.
  • When I am overwhelmed by trying circumstances–when everything seems to be going wrong and I alternate between frenzied activity and fearful paralysis.

What Jesus promises is that in this hour of trial, whatever it is, we do not stand alone. There is One who stands alongside us, instructing us as “the Spirit of truth” (15:26). He testifies about Jesus so that we can testify about Jesus and tell and live the truth of who he is.

My greatest challenge is listening to my lawyer! Sometimes, I think the reason I do not listen is because I’m afraid if I do, I won’t hear anything and won’t be helped. So I decide to just do it myself. Yet I can also think of a time when I was facing a great challenge, that had me crying out for the Spirit’s help. And I found that when the need was there, so was the insight of what to do next, step by step. It did not seem that the Holy Spirit showed me the whole game plan, but rather just the next step. And he gave the presence of mind and peace of heart to give calm leadership to others.

What I forget is that the Holy Spirit is not simply my Advocate in extraordinary situations but also in ordinary life. Just as lawyers can help us with the mundane details of a contract or an estate plan, so our Advocate can help us with the “ordinary” matters of our days–caring for children, relating to customers or vendors, devising plans for our work. All of this for the Christian is part of life in the kingdom under Jesus new covenant rule. Everything matters, and it matters so much that our Lord has not left us to stumble about on our own.

One of the ancient prayers of the church is “Veni Sancte Spiritus”, which means “come Holy Spirit”. Maybe one of the simplest steps you and I can take when we are conscious of our need for help is to pray these three words and to invite his counsel. Where do you need to listen to Him today? This week?

Review: Spirit of Life

Spirit of Life
Spirit of Life by Jürgen Moltmann
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As a boy, I grew up hearing about the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Later on, the language was modernized to refer to the Holy Spirit but there was still something mysterious about this person of the Trinity. And so it remains for many of us who functionally are “binatarians”. We speak of Father and Son but have only the vaguest notions of the Holy Spirit.

And so it was with some interest that I turned to this work by German theologian Jurgen Moltmann on the Holy Spirit, or in theological terms, “pneumatology.” This volume is actually the fourth volume in Moltmann’s systematic theology.

The title of the book is significant. Moltmann’s key theme in this book is that the Holy Spirit is “the spirit of life.” Moltmann is arguing not for “spirituality” but for “vitality” in our embodied lives, countering what he sees as Gnostic remnants in the theology and language of the church.

Moltmann takes an approach different than some others. He begins with our experience of the Spirit and moves to a theology of the Spirit rather than the other way round. It is through the Holy Spirit that the immanent Triune God is experienced in our lives. He looks at this in our experience, in the Old Testament and in the relationship of Christ and the Spirit. One of the implications of the work of the Spirit is the presence of God in all things and in all of life. There are no divides between “spiritual” and “secular” or material existence.

The second part of this work is titled “Life in the Spirit” and explores the work in the Spirit in what is classically known as the Order of Salvation beginning with giving life to our mortal bodies and to liberating us from sin, in which he also engages Latin liberation theologies. He explores the role of the Spirit in justification, distinguishing victims and perpetrators. He considers the work of the Spirit in regeneration and its relation to justification, in sanctification and in the giving of gifts to the church (which he would extend beyond the typical “gift lists” in scripture to all our talents and skills employed for God’s purposes). Finally, he explores the work of the Spirit in mystical experience.

The third and last section of the book is titled “The Fellowship of the Spirit.” He explores the relations within the Trinity and the implications of that Fellowship for the Spirit’s work in making fellowship possible in the life of the church–including discussions of intergenerational community, fellowship between the genders, and the relation of various action, self help, and other groups that may operate under the auspices of the church. The concluding part of the work contains what one might most classically consider when thinking of the theology of the Holy Spirit. Here Moltmann considers various “metaphors” for the Spirit and comes to his own definition of the Personhood of the Spirit within the Trinity:

The personhood of God the Holy Spirit is the loving, self-communicating, out-fanning, and out-pouring presence of the eternal divine life of the triune God.

He concludes the work with a discussion of the filioque clause added to Western versions of the Creed and a key factor in the schism between East and West. He argues for the East here, that the clause is superfluous at best and unnecessarily subordinates the Spirit within the Trinity and ignores the reciprocity existing between Spirit and Son.

A few comments on this book. I most appreciated Moltmann’s emphasis on the Holy Spirit’s involvement in all of embodied life. I agree with the need for a corrective to an over-spiritualized, gnostic view of life that denies our bodily, material existence and the goodness in this. At the same time, I wondered if Moltmann had moved from simply the immanence of God to a kind of Christian panentheism, God in all things (language he uses at points).

In addition, I do think it a challenge always in Trinitarian theology to discuss the nature of any of the “persons”, with all of the human associations of this language. I sense this difficulty in Moltmann who moves between “it” and “he” in referencing the Holy Spirit. I’m left wondering, in Moltmann’s definition of the Personhood of the Spirit and his uses of language whether he considers the Holy Spirit a “person” in the same way as Father and Son.

I read this work apart from the preceding three volumes in his systematic theology, or any of Moltmann’s other works, which may place me at a disadvantage. (This is what comes of picking up a book in a bargain section of a used book store!). Still, if I were to make a recommendation, I would start with Basil the Great’s, On the Holy Spirit, which is so helpful in understanding the development of the early church’s understanding of the Holy Spirit and the Trinity.

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