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LeRon Shults and Andrea Hollingsworth: The Holy Spirit


Early Christian thinking on power was more or less shackled by Aristotle’s idea of an unmoved Mover. There was hardly room for spirit in such a concept. Western Christianity carried this over into determinism or voluntarism rather than the dynamic interplay between God and humanity with creation.

In spite of the fact that medieval mystics (such as Bernard Clairvaux) were influenced by Platonic philosophy, and scholastics (such as Thomas Aquinas) were under Aristotelian influence, they contributed some interesting interpretations of the experience and teaching concerning the Spirit.

The Reformation brought some fresh theological work on the Spirit from Martin Luther and John Calvin. Such work, especially Luther’s, was rooted in their struggle and concerns for the Reformation of the church. Shults and Hollingsworth argue that Luther’s work and the place he gave to the Spirit has been overlooked because of his greater emphasis on justification by faith. Calvin’s work on the Spirit demonstrates the centrality of the Spirit’s work in salvation and the Christian life. Huldrych Zwingli, the other Magisterial Reformer, is also seen by some as contributing significantly to the church’s understanding of the Spirit. He saw the Spirit’s role becoming prominent after Christ’s ascension and the pouring out of the Spirit at Pentecost. Menno Simons, perhaps most remembered of the “radical Reformers,” disagreed with the prevailing doctrine that regeneration occurs through water baptism, arguing that it is only by the baptism of the Spirit.

In Modernism there has been a relational turn in philosophy influenced by theology, promoting the idea of person in terms of relation and communion and not substance. If energy is of the same essence as matter, then a new emphasis on God as Trinity—the Spirit integral in all God does in the world—gives us a more Scriptural and robust view of the Holy Spirit. Surprisingly, Immanuel Kant, G.W.F. Hegel and Friedrich Schleiermacher were among the major figures in this turn. And we find some significant contributions from Jonathan Edwards and John Wesley.

The authors believe God was moving by the Spirit through the Pentecostal revival at the beginning of the twentieth century and the charismatic renewal which came at the middle of the century as well. The authors acknowledge there has been good work that has come from Pentecostal scholars. In addition to this, some feminist and liberation theologies hold significant views of the Spirit. When you consider a number of twentieth century theologians, such as Karl Barth and Jürgen Moltmann (whose theology is more Trinitarian), who give more deference to the Spirit than many earlier Western theologies, you have more openness to what God wants to do through the church in the world.

The annotated bibliography is outstanding, a major portion of the book. The descriptions of the books and authors cited are interesting in themselves, and also helpful for any further in-depth reading or research one might want to do.


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Category: Pneuma Review, Spirit, Summer 2009

About the Author: Ted M. Gossard, MDiv (Grand Rapids Theological Seminary), BTh (Prairie Bible Institute), enjoys teaching, preaching, leading home group, reading and enjoying God's creation. Ted and his family are members of Redeemer Covenant Church (Evangelical Covenant) of Caledonia, Michigan.

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