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The Spirit is Other-Directed - An Excerpt from The Holy Spirit

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The Holy Spirit by Christopher HolmesOf the three persons of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit is often the most difficult to wrap our minds around. In this book, New Zealand lecturer and Anglican priest Christopher R. J. Holmes lays out what we know about how God reveals himself through the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit, the first installment in the New Studies in Dogmatics series, is now available from Zondervan Academic. Order your copy today.

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This is a book about the being, identity, and activity of the Holy Spirit. What is the Holy Spirit? Who is the Holy Spirit? How does the Spirit do things? And what does the Spirit do? These are the central questions. The Spirit’s abiding interest is to bind us to Christ and to his Father, our Father, thereby leading everyone back to the Father through the Son. But why is this? Why does the Spirit act in this way?

This book answers these deep questions. My contention is that God’s being is reliably expressed in God’s acts, given God’s covenant faithfulness. However, Holy Scripture teaches us that God’s acts cannot contain God’s being any more than Israel’s temple could contain the immense majesty of God. The being of God is what grounds the missions of Son and Spirit. God’s great acts of creation, reconciliation, and perfection have a source. That source is God’s being, complete in itself. This book is an unfolding of that life and of how we share in that life through the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Speaking of God

The church confesses that it believes in one God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In so doing, it has never denied that the description of God will take us to the very limits of speech, indeed beyond them. This is not to say, however, that we are simply reduced to silence before God the Holy Trinity. The Trinity is a mystery that wills to be known, loved, served, and spoken of as that mystery truly is. The Trinity is a knowable mystery. The Trinity would have us talk of the Trinity as the Trinity truly is.

Karl Barth — about whom you will hear much in this study — spoke eloquently of how the God of the gospel “commandeers” our speech. Rather than letting us think we know in advance the content of the name “Holy Spirit,” the biblical testimony teaches us to speak faithfully and truthfully with respect to the being and identity of the “Holy Spirit.” In other words, Scripture commandeers the names “Father” or “Holy Spirit,” teaching us how to speak of the name of God with proper reverence. Just so, the name “Holy Spirit” is a revealed name; the same is true of “Father.” These names are given their content by Scripture. This study is an exercise in how sacred Scripture teaches us to speak of the Spirit’s person and work in a way that would honour Thomas F. Torrance’s statement that “the Spirit is not just something divine or something akin to God emanating from him, not some sort of action at a distance or some kind of gift detachable from himself, for in the Holy Spirit God acts directly upon us himself, and in giving us his Holy Spirit God gives us nothing less than himself.”

This volume is also concerned with mapping the being of the God whom Scripture gives us to know and love. The God of the Bible — as scandalous as this may seem — really is “actually and unreservedly as we encounter him in his revelation.”3 That is why it is appropriate and necessary to speak with confidence about God’s life on the basis of the missions of Son and Spirit. God’s inner life is encountered, revealed, and disclosed in God’s outward life, God’s saving acts. It is these acts that point us to their origin, that teach us of a profound unity of being between the Father, Son, and Spirit. Our joyful task ahead is to recognize in the idiom of Scripture rich metaphysical teaching about the one being of the triune God. In other words, the Old and New Testaments encourage us to talk with sobriety not only about what God does but also about what and how God is. The Testaments taken together promote reflection on the shape of God’s inner life as revealed in Israel and Jesus.

The Spirit’s Being and Nature

When Christians call on the Spirit, we are calling on the Spirit of the risen Jesus. Rather than being directed away from Jesus Christ, the Spirit deepens our fellowship with him and his people, all to the glory of the Father. The Spirit does not replace Christ or take over from him. Rather, the Spirit’s work “is to carry forward the divine philanthropy begun in the incarnation.”4 The Spirit does not detract from Christ, supersede Christ, or act as his substitute. As we will see, the Spirit is primarily at work in relation to the Word (incarnate, written, and proclaimed), strengthening baptized children of God to remain true to Christ. Indeed, the mission of the Holy Spirit is coextensive with the mission of the Word (the Lord Jesus Christ).

But why does the Spirit act this way? Why is the Spirit other-directed? Herein lies the key idea of the volume. There are basic reasons the three do what they do in creating and, in turn, reconciling and perfecting humankind for a life of blessedness. Those reasons have to do with how the three are. Such talk of how the three are is necessary if we are to understand why God’s work toward the outside has the shape that it does. (Pgs 19-21)

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The Holy Spirit is now available to order from Zondervan Academic.

[Common Places] New Studies in Dogmatics: The Holy Spirit—Interview with Christopher R. J. Holmes
[Common Places] New Studies in Dogmatics: The Holy Spirit—Interview with Christopher R. J. Holmes Zondervan Academic’s New Studies in Dogmatics series launched this fall with its first volume, Christopher Holmes’s The ...
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