The Lord is the Spirit: The Holy Spirit and Divine Attributes

LIS.pngGabriel, Andrew K.

The Lord is the Spirit: The Holy Spirit and Divine Attributes

Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2011. Pp. x + 237. Paper. $27.00.

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With thanks to Wipf & Stock for this review copy!

The Reformation left us with a bunch of Latin mottos but one that gets bandied about quite a bit is semper reformanda, which means “always reforming.” This can undoubtedly be a good thing as it always leaves open the room for correction and growth. Semper reformanda has led a lot of contemporary theologians and philosophers of religion to question and revise long cherished beliefs. Take for example the process theology of the late-19th to early 20th centuries, or the more recent open theism, which built upon many of the concepts of process theology; both challenge what has come to be called classical theism, notably as it relates to certain attributes of God, such as omnipotence, omniscience, immutability, or impassibility.

The Lord is the Spirit is Andrew K. Gabriel’s (Assistant Professor of Theology at Horizon College and Seminary) attempt at reforming the classical doctrine of God from a pneumetological perspective. The first half of the book is concerned with identifying classical theism, highlighting some of the modern responses to it, and situating a robust pneumatology within Trinitarian theology. The second half of the book attempts, unsuccessfully in my opinion, to present the Spirit as passible, changing, and something that seems like omnipotent but maybe not.

Gabriel doesn’t seem to appreciate any distinction between the apathetic gods of the Greeks and the impassible God of the Scriptures. He insists on reading anthropopathic passages literally while writing off anthropomorphic passages because “God is not a physical being” (127). But this begs the question in assuming what must be proven. On the basis of anthropomorphic language why should we not conclude that God is a physical being (Mormons have drawn this very conclusion!)? There is an uneasy hermeneutical inconsistency here.

Gabriel continues with facile arguments in favor of the Spirit’s mutability such as suggesting that “the very idea of ‘Spirit’ implies movement” (155-56). So what if it does? How does that equate to change? And his appeal to the Spirit being present at different times and in different ways, a phenomenon with which I am very familiar as a Pentecostal, will fail to convince many. Immutability, classically conceived, concerns the character of God, a point that Gabriel seemingly doesn’t appreciate or attempt to argue against, in fact, he affirms it (181-82)!

The final chapter is strange in that Gabriel affirms divine omnipotence but wants to reconceive what this means pneumatologically. After arguing that both Reformed and Pentecostal perspectives on the Spirit’s unilateral power are not normative, Gabriel goes on to suggest that the fact that creatures have freedom is a testament to the Spirit’s kenosis, a “divine self-limitation of the exercise of divine power” (190). But this is a suspect view of kenosis; one that basically conceives of omnipotence as fatalism/hard determinism and posits self-limitation in lieu of its absence. But even if we accept Gabriel’s premise, this is still evidence of the Spirit’s omnipotence, is it not?

In the end I can appreciate Gabriel’s attempt at adhering to that trusty Reformation motto; but there’s a flip side to the semper reformanda coin and it comes in the form of a modern saying: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” I remain unconvinced that the classical theists were wrong to begin with and the attempts to show that they were in this volume have failed to elicit a change of opinion. Having said that; those involved in the debates over classical theism will do well to consult this volume as another in an ever-growing body of literature arguing against it; and Gabriel has the distinction of being a Pentecostal writing about the Spirit (imagine that!).

B”H

4 thoughts on “The Lord is the Spirit: The Holy Spirit and Divine Attributes

  1. Thanks for reviewing my book! Of course, I disagree with some of your conclusions (smile).

    I would like to clarify a few things regarding part 2 of the book (things I suppose I should have emphasized more given your concerns). Overall, I get the sense that you missed the point that I only seek to “revise” certain divine attributes as understood by many classical theists, but not to “reject” classical theism as a whole.

    1/ Regarding your paragraph 3, where you state: “Gabriel doesn’t seem to appreciate any distinction between the apathetic gods of the Greeks and the impassible God of the Scriptures.” I have addressed this on page 20 (and 148-151 to some extent). Regarding your hermeneutical concerns, I would point your readers to pages 128-130 (especially) in my book.

    2/ Regarding your paragraph 4: “facile arguments” (ouch!). To clarify, I am not inconsistent because I am not arguing that God is mutable in every way, but specifically with respect to divine presence. Contrary to your claim, immutability does not only pertain to divine character (see pages 18-19 and 152)—some theologians explicitly link immutability and divine presence (p. 152 and 156-158).

    3/ Regarding your paragraph 5: I affirm the Spirit is omnipotent and never reject this. I am simply seeking to “offer content to the doctrine” of divine omnipotence (p. 203, cf. p. 193).

    Thanks again for engaging my book.

    Following up on paragraph 3, readers might be interested in an exchange I have had with Daniel Castelo regarding divine impassibility in the Journal of Pentecostal Theology (volumes 19, 20 and 21).

  2. Andrew: It’s always a pleasure to have an author comment on one of my reviews! Forgive the seeming harshness of the review—it was late when I wrote it and I was extremely tired—that could have possibly made me come off a bit more cranky than I actually was!

    I have to also admit that I was reminded very much of Moltmann when reading through your book and I have grown more and more frustrated with him over the years. With that said, I appreciate your clarifications; I’ll go back to re-read those sections. I’m not above revising the review if I’ve gotten something wrong. I’ll have to see if I can find your exchange with Castelo. I haven’t had journal access for the last couple of years.

    Thanks again for commenting.

  3. Andrew: I strive to accurately represent the viewpoints of the authors whose works I review so if I’ve gotten something wrong I don’t mind adjusting it. That’s not to say that I’d adjust my opinion. I think I’d rather just write a different review altogether if my opinion were to change.

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