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Ivan Satyavrata: The Holy Spirit

Both the Old and the New Testaments reveals a myriad of concepts of the Holy Spirit – this is the focus of chapter four. The Spirit is a person and not an impersonal force. The Spirit is God. The Spirit and Christ are distinct and yet inseparably linked, so much so that Christ is the criteria for discerning the true Spirit. The Spirit in the Christian life is the agent who effects Christ’s finished work. This is contrasted with the portrayal of the ‘Shamanistic’ and “Han” Spirits in the opening prayers of 1991 Seventh Assembly of the World Council of Churches led by Chung Hyun-Kyung, a South Korean female theologian.

Chapter five takes off from Irenaeus’ analogy of the “two hands of God” to articulate the Spirit’s relations to the Trinity: The Spirit is the divine person. The Spirit is the Spirit of the Father and of Christ, and the Spirit has a personal relationship with the other members of the Trinity. This demonstrates the nature of mutual and divine love in this “community of being” (p. 91). As Satyavrata conceives it, communion best captures the Spirit’s work in mediating the presence of God, his love, and unity to the believers.

In chapter six, Satyavrata explains that when the Word and the Spirit converges in divine revelation, that clarifies the Spirit as the Spirit of Truth. The Spirit always directs us to the Word of God – to authenticate the authorship of Scripture, and to validate God’s Word in the process of the canonization of Scripture, and in making Scripture applicable for believers. The Spirit is conceived as the interpreter and illuminator of the Word and of the truth about Christ.

Having discussed the Spirit’s essential nature and character, Satyavrata then proceeds to examine the Spirit in Christian life, devoting chapter seven to the individual dimension of “the Spirit and Salvation,” chapter eight to the communal aspect of the Spirit in the Church, and chapter nine to “Keeping in Step with the Spirit.” In the personal dimension, Satyavrata postulates that even though the Spirit is invisible, the Christian is consciously aware of the presence and power of the Spirit – the Spirit draws attention not to himself but to Christ, with soteriological intent. The Spirit convicts, converts, gives life, washes/regenerates, adopts, baptizes into Christ, endues with spiritual gifts, and grants subsequent/second baptism in the Spirit (contra the cessationist view). Communally, the Spirit gives identity, mission, and character to the Christian community. The Spirit makes the Church God’s dwelling place, the Body of Christ with all the diversity among its members, God’s family. The Spirit orientates the being and inner life of the Church making it “the community of the Spirit” (p.145), characterizes by its worship, holiness, equipping for ministry, and by marks/signs of the Church as the Kingdom of God. To keep pace, the Spirit empowers the believer to overcome evil, make them disciples, assists them in spiritual warfare, and brings the world to Christ, by means of genuine experiences of the Spirit of God.

In my assessment, Satyavrata’s pneumatology is introductory, and it stands in continuity with western theological development. It is introductory because the pneumatology he lays out is at an elementary level. There is no engagement with deeper theological truth reflection such as that seen in David Coffey’s Deus Trinitas, Michael Welker’s God the Spirit, and/or Yves Congar’s I Believe in the Holy Spirit. What we have in Satyavrata is a pneumatology in plain language and in its most basic form. Perhaps it is intended for a lay-readership who just wants a ‘feel’ for the subject. But for that, readers may not find it easy to follow Satyavrata. This is because there are quite a lot of overlaps in the way Satyavrata organize his materials/ideas. While repetitions may indeed be helpful for lay readership, the ideas are jumbled all over the places instead of following sequentially with each other, thereby making it difficult to follow – chapter 2 on the Spirit in the life of the Church, and chapter 8 on the Spirit and the Church in the context of the church as “the community of the Spirit,” chapter 4 the Spirit as God’s personal presence (Trinity), which is discussed again albeit in different ways in chapter 5 the Spirit and the Trinity, and so forth.

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Category: In Depth, Summer 2010

About the Author: Timothy Teck Ngern Lim, M.Div. (BGST, Singapore), Ph.D. (Regent University), is a Visiting Lecturer for London School of Theology and Research Tutor for King's Evangelical Divinity School (London). He is on the advisory board of One in Christ (Turvey) and area book review editor for Evangelical Review of Society & Politics. He is an evangelical theologian ordained as a Teaching Elder with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). He has published in ecclesiology, ecumenical theology, and interdisciplinarity. A recent monograph published entitled Ecclesial Recognition with Hegelian Philosophy, Social Psychology, and Continental Political Theory: An Interdisciplinary Proposal (Brill, 2017).

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