THE HOLY SPIRIT, by Christopher R. J. Holmes

Published on July 21, 2016 by Joshua Centanni

Zondervan, 2015 | 224 pages

A Brief Book Summary from Books at a Glance

About the Author

Christopher R. J. Holmes (ThD, Wycliffe College, University of Toronto) is senior lecturer in Systematic Theology in the Department of Theology and Religion, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand. He is an Anglican priest and is the author of Revisiting the Doctrine of the Divine Attributes: In Dialogue with Karl Barth, Eberhard Jüngel, and Wolf Krötke (2007), Ethics in the Presence of Christ (2012), as well as many articles on the theology of Karl Barth, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and on Christian doctrine.


The series New Studies in Dogmatics aims to fill the gap between introductory texts and advanced monographs by offering focused treatments of major topics in theology. This constructive task of theology is achieved through prioritizing Scripture in a process of renewal through doctrinal retrieval from the church’s past.

This volume unfolds the eternal person of the Holy Spirit drawing guidance from Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, and Karl Barth. In the church’s deepest reflections on Scripture, we see that the Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son, and his acts are always grounded in the one being of God and in his personal relations within the Trinity. He is sent out to glorify the Father and the Son and to bring God’s people into communion in holy love.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction
Excursus 1: An Alternative Approach to the Holy Spirit in Contemporary Theological Discourse

Part 1: Engaging Augustine: The Divinity of the Holy Spirit
2. The Spirit and the New Birth
3. “Heavenly Things”

Part 2: Engaging Thomas: The Hypostatic Subsistence of the Holy Spirit
4. “Rivers of Living Water”
5. The Kingship of Jesus and the Spirit
Excursus 2: Spirit Christology

Part 3: Engaging Barth: The Other-Directed Spirit
6. The Redemptive Spirit
7. The Spirit of Christ

Part 4: Correlates: Regeneration, Church, and Tradition

8. Regenerated Sight
9. Church and Tradition
10. On Theological Vision

Chapter 1. Introduction

This book is about the being, identity, and activity of the Holy Spirit. God’s covenant faithfulness means that his acts reliably express his being, and yet they cannot contain his being. This book will unfold God’s life which he has in himself.

What the church confesses is that there is one God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This goes beyond the limits of language. As Karl Barth tells us, though, God “commandeers” our speech and teaches us to speak with proper reverence as we honor Scripture’s teaching.

Central to the being and economy of the Spirit is that he is the Spirit of the risen Jesus. This means he directs us to the Son, deepens the fellowship of his people, and glorifies the Father. The Word (Jesus Christ) and the Spirit are a coextensive pair in the work of unfolding the being of God to us in this construction.

The Lutheran notion that we must seek the knowledge of God in the crucified Christ comports with this line of inquiry since God lives “from himself” as one whose essence and existence are one. This means that the Spirit works in the economy of grace to expand the community which belongs to the Son. He is “other-directed.”

The Key Idea: What the Church Fathers called ‘theology and economy’ we might call processions and missions. The first focuses on ‘the mystery of the Trinitarian God,’ and the latter on ‘the mystery of incarnation and redemption.’ Contemporary theology is hesitant to speak of processions, but understanding the Father’s begetting role, the Son as begotten, and the Spirit proceeding from both is crucial to knowing God, especially as he works toward us.

This volume will unfold “the divinity of the Spirit in relation to Father and Son in the inner life of God.” As help along the way we turn to Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, and Karl Barth, specifically their exegesis of the Fourth Gospel.

Part 1: Engaging Augustine: The Divinity of the Holy Spirit
Chapter 2. The Spirit and the New Birth

First we look to Augustine’s exposition of the one essence of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, found in two sermons from April of 407. Central to his reading of John 2:23-3:21 is a notion of God’s prevenience: before humans act, God the Spirit acts.

In discussing the character of Nicodemus’ visit to Jesus, we are told of Jesus’ reticence to entrust himself to those who believed because of the signs. Augustine points out that we are like Nicodemus: we seek for light in darkness (“by night”), yet Jesus entrusts himself to those who come to him in the day believing in his divinity. Coming to Jesus does not happen on one’s own terms: the Spirit works by baptism and the supper to make lovers of the kingdom of heaven. Augustine does not let his hearers/readers go unscathed; we all come under the authoritative voice of Scripture as God speak to his people by the Spirit.

The Source of the New Birth: Jesus speaks to Nicodemus of “heavenly things” (3:12). Augustine says that Jesus was “born of a mother without departing from his Father.” This is the humility of the one who “cut death down.” Augustine shows then that what lies behind the Spirit’s work in the new birth is the basic oneness of Father, Son, and Spirit just as Jesus’ divine nature supports his person and mission.

Thomas Aquinas lends a supporting voice at this point in his commentary on John 3:13. It is Jesus’ divine person which descended as the one self-subsistent thing present in the two natures, human and divine. Theology’s task is to ascribe to each nature what belongs to it, and the life Jesus shares with us in the Spirit is from the being of the Father. The Spirit is the “giveable” God.

The New Birth of the Spirit: The Spirit’s work in God’s people has a “visible” dimension. Good deeds done in the Spirit are the invisible work being made visible; add to that the sung praises which assume the Spirit’s regenerative act and the distant work of the cross comes near.

And how is this Spirit received to begin with? Jesus received the Spirit “without measure” and he gives the Spirit “without measure” to those who receive him.

In unfolding the first principles of Trinitarian theology, Augustine again points us back to the equality of divinity which grounds all of the Spirit’s work from above. Indeed, he shows that the Scriptural text is theological and we must give our attention to it.

3. “Heavenly Things”

Next we turn to Augustine’s more systematic teaching in On the Trinity where he explores both the oneness of God and the Father as the source of Son and Spirit. He urges us to “fix our thoughts on…

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The Holy Spirit (New Studies in Dogmatics)

Zondervan, 2015 | 224 pages

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