The Holy Spirit (Guides to Theology)

THS.jpgShults, F. LeRon and Andrea Hollingsworth.

The Holy Spirit

Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2008. Pp. viii + 156. Paper. $16.00.

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With thanks to Lara Sissell at Eerdmans for this review copy!

The Holy Spirit is the third installment in Eerdmans Guides to Theology Series (preceded by The Trinity [2003] & Feminist Theology [2003]).  Like the first two books in this series the intended goal is to “provide a brief introduction to the chosen field, followed by an annotated bibliography of important works, which should serve as an entrée to the topic.” [n.p.]

Shults & Hollingworth (hereafter S&H) get off on the right foot in the introduction by acknowledging the personality of the Spirit.  They then trace the Holy Spirit through the Hebrew Scriptures to the New Testament sketching out a brief picture of the third person of the Trinity from what at first glance appears to be a mere smattering of passages but upon closer inspection actually reveals a thoughtful and deliberate choice of texts that all reveal a small piece of the pneumatological puzzle.

The book is divided into two main sections: (1)  Interpreting the Transforming Experience of the Holy Spirit, and (2) English-Language Resources on the Holy Spirit.  The first section is broken down into two smaller parts the first of which addresses Patristic, Medieval, and Reformation interpretations of the Spirit.  The second covers Early and Late Modern interpretations.  The second section is the annotated bibliography that the Guides to Theology series is famed for.

S&H show a familiarity with ancient philosophy and modern science that helps to enlighten the reader in each section.  We’re shown how much Stoicism, Platonism, Middle Platonism, Neo-Platonism, and Aristotelianism factored into Patristic, Medieval, and Reformation thinking on the Spirit in the first half of section one.  In the second half Shults’1 knowledge of modern scientific research and philosophy shines through and gives some alternatives for understanding the Spirit in modern thought.  For example, rather than holding to the dichotomy that places matter in opposition to spirit which is understood in terms of being an immaterial substance, Shults says that:

Einstein’s recognition that ‘matter’ and ‘energy’ are transferable (E=mc2) has made it possible for theorists in the sciences of emergent complexity to conceptualize what has traditionally been called ‘spirit’ (or ‘form’ or ‘life’) as in some sense a qualification of matter. [p. 90]

Whether or not one agrees with this proposal is beside the point as it at least provides alternatives for thinking on the matter.  This is the general tone of the book overall; S&H provoke thought if nothing else.  I can also say that I think their recounting of early Church history is well done even if marked by brevity.

Now onto some critical reflection.  I have two main criticisms:

Firstly: While there was a good deal of attention given to the early controversies over the Spirit’s deity with the pneumatomachoi as well as the filioque controversy, there is no mention of the denial of the Spirit’s deity and personality by modern groups such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, nor is the debate on cessationism in modern pneumatological discourse addressed at all.  While I’m by no means criticizing this for not being an apologetic or polemical work, I do think that the reader would have benefited greatly from mention of these issues and interaction with these positions.

Secondly: Conspicuously absent from the annotated bibliography were Craig S. Keener’s Gift & Giver: The Holy Spirit for Today (Baker Academic, 2001) and Max Turner’s The Holy Spirit and Spiritual Gifts: In the New Testament Church and Today (Hendrickson, 1998).  As can be expected, with the omission of these works from the bibliography came a lack of reference to them in the main body of the book which is unfortunate given that Turner and Keener are two notable charismatic voices.

In terms of positive presentations I think that S&H did well.  I’m by no means an expert on pneumatology so I’m not qualified to critique their overall presentation, but as the type of person that this book was intended for I think that it has given me a good foundation for further study and reflection.  Compared to the volume on the Trinity I don’t think that The Holy Spirit was quite as well-written, but it was well-written nonetheless.  I’d recommend this volume to anyone looking for a way into the subject, but for those who are already familiar with it, I’d say skip it.3.0 out of 5 stars


1 I say Shults specifically because of my knowledge of his other writings on the subject but I stand ready to receive correction if Hollingsworth is also knowledgeable in this area and contributed significantly to these portions of the book.


18 thoughts on “The Holy Spirit (Guides to Theology)

  1. I thought it was bad enough that Einstein’s theories were being used in hermeneutics. Now they’re being used in pneumatology as well?

  2. I’ve been waiting for you to review this one, and I’m happy you got around to it so quickly. I haven’t read this one, but have read Shults elsewhere. What are your thoughts about how he responds to other scholars in this book? Does he interact with them much? Does he summarize their thoughts? Does he ignore them completely?

  3. John: I expected as much from Shults so while it was definitely interesting to see, it wasn’t surprising. Having said that, I think it’s ridiculous to assert that ‘spirit’ might somehow be ‘matter’ but it does get one thinking.

    Brian: Shults & Hollingsworth know what they’re talking about when they talk about stuff they know about. ;)

    Ranger: S&H don’t really respond to other scholars so much as they summarize their pneumatology. I wouldn’t say that there’s much if anything at all in terms of interaction past a simple call at the very end of the first section to be careful not to fall into the modalist tendencies of ‘psychological trinitarianism’ and the tri-theistic tendencies of ‘social trinitarianism.’ But all the usual suspects appear in S&H’s treatment of modern theologians, e.g., Barth; Rahner; Moltmann; Jenson; Pannenberg; et al. The one thing that is abundantly clear is that S&H think that the way of thinking about the Spirit in classical Christian thought is outdated and needs to be reshaped as it is informed by modern philosophy and science. I can’t say that I’m convinced of this but it’s food for thought.

  4. From what I’ve read of Shults he is big into reforming to conform to science, psychology, contemporary philosophy, etc. In his Christology and Science, he doesn’t seem to want to go outside of traditional orthodoxy, but he definitely wants to reword and reform orthodoxy to conform to late modernity.

    He’s obviously brilliant and well read, but often seems to write off anyone who disagrees with him by simply ignoring them or summarizing them to a point that is absurd.

  5. Ranger: I’ve been tempted to look at Christology and Science given my love for Christology, but there’s always been something that has kept me from picking up a copy, even with Chris Tilling’s sparkling review of it.

  6. I haven’t read Shults yet, but Tilling (approvingly) gives a couple of quotations from *Christology and Science* that sound downright ridiculous. E.g.:

    ‘”Dogmatic” theology is rational, but its axioms must be fluid rather than fixed’


    ‘Why should we insist on expressing the doctrine of the incarnation in ways that are tied to ancient Greek or modern anthropological concepts of personhood, which focus on the sameness of hypostasized substances? Why not critically engage the relational and dynamic thought forms of contemporary anthropological discourse as we seek to articulate belief in the Word became flesh?’

    The first quotation, I think, is self-evidently ridiculous. The ridiculousness of the second might need some unpacking: it makes the all-too-common confusion of two separate uses of the word “identity”. Narrative theologians have done a lot of philosophical trading on the idea that “identity” is narrativally constructed, thinking that such a notion somehow displaces the idea of “substantive” identity. But that is simply to confuse two completely non-intersecting uses of the term “identity”. The fact that I might be “identified” in narratival terms with respect to who I am on public and private stages has nothing whatsoever to do with who I am in ontological terms, and any argument that thinks that one definition of “identity” displaces the other simply doesn’t know how to separate concepts from terms.

    Unfortunately, this conceit of replacing one notion of identity with another has become commonplace. It is, in fact, the main argument behind Joel Green’s new book *The Body, Soul, and Human Life*.

  7. John: Yeah, I scratched my head wondering what a “fluid axiom” looks like. As to the second quote, I’d answer the first part of his question by saying, “because it makes sense to do so.” I’m not convinced that there have been any significant advances beyond Chalcedon. This is the second time you’ve mentioned Green’s book. I’m going to have to get my hands on a copy and see what he’s talking about.

  8. I’ve become more cautious of Green since reading his book on the Atonement. What’s strange about that is that I actually agree with his views on the Atonement (or at least against PSA) and was super excited about getting his book but I didn’t care for how he handled the data; it looked kind of suspicious to me. I didn’t even finish the book because it was getting on my nerves so much. It makes me wonder how he would handle the biblical passages dealing with the body and the soul.

    Bryan L

  9. Green wrote it with Mark Baker. It’s called “Recovering the Scandal of the Cross”. The four views one is actually pretty good.

    Bryan L

  10. Green’s book on *Body, Soul, and Human Life* is much like that–the biblical exegesis is really lacking. E.g., in what is supposed to be an extended argument that the NT doesn’t envision the soul as something separable from the body, there is only one reference to 2 Cor 5:8 (“to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord”), and it is merely a passing remark that this verse contains the phrase term *sun christo*. And, IIRC, there is no reference whatsoever to Rev 6:10 (about the souls of the martyrs waiting under the altar in heaven).

    There are many, many more problems with this book as well. E.g., at one place, Green argues against an “intermediate state” personal eschatology by pointing out that the Bible knows nothing of a platonic-style hard dualism (in which the body is denigrated as both bad and expendable), even though the former is *not* an example of the latter at all.

    I’m afraid that we need to prepare ourselves for this sort of half-baked exegesis, as it appears to be a distinguishing feature of the new “theological interpretation” movement. After all, if you already know what the answer is supposed to be (which, for this crowd, is defined by a certain circle of piety), then why do you need real exegesis?

  11. Bryan: I’d like to say that I’d check them out but the atonement is not one of the more interesting subjects for me at this time.

    John: Sounds awful. Now the question is: do I read it to see just how awful, or do I ignore it altogether?

  12. Hmmm . . . You could just wait for me to write up a proper response to Green’s book (which I hope to do).

  13. I guess some authors write good books and bad books, or not so good books. I like Green’s commentary on Luke in the NICNT series but these other ones don’t sound too engaging.

  14. John: Sounds good, but to read your response I’ll be forced to read Green. It’s a compulsion.

    Brian: Yeah, pretty much. I guess they can’t all be good (unless of course Larry Hurtado wrote them!).

  15. Brian: That is sad indeed! I own three books that he’s written and have a number of his articles as well. And I plan to add another couple of Hurtado books to my library in the coming months.

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