Some of the hottest debates in twentieth-century Christianity whirled around the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. Fueled by early century Pentecostal awakenings such as the Azusa Street revival in Los Angeles, fresh works of the Spirit became, by century’s end, the catalyst for an unprecedented expansion of the Christian faith. In the academy these developments precipitated multiple, varied, and outstanding works of scholarship. Readers of this blog are likely most familiar with two defining works published in the wake of the purported new experiences of the Spirit which sought to provide exegetical bases for Pentecostal/charismatic understanding of the spirit—Stronstad’s The Charismatic Theology of St. Luke and Gordon Fee’s legendary work God’s Empowering Presence. Nonetheless, study of the Spirit and systematic expression of pneumatology remained comparatively underrepresented in theological and historical study in proportion to its doctrinal importance.
Historical theology is a tricky endeavor, and it is complicated most by determining the limits of a study. This scholar must be all things to all people: biblical scholar, theologian, historian, hermeneutician, and yes, philosopher. But he or she must also be wise: to appropriately select which sources to include and which to exclude requires a masterful grasp of the entire corpus of the relevant literature as well as the possession of impeccable discernment. This person must decide the relevance and importance of each piece of evidence to the task at hand–in this case to give voice to the way the entire church has expressed its understanding of the Spirit from the Old Testament era up to the modern current Pentecostal era.
Enter Anthony Thiselton and his new book The Holy Spirit–in Biblical Teaching, through the Centuries, and Today. The Christian community is incredibly blessed to have a scholar of his ability and skill, and even more so for his ability to apply those skills across multiple disciplines. Can you imagine anyone better to write a comprehensive treatment on a topic as enigmatic as the historical understanding of the Holy Spirit than Thiselton? Not only is he the scholar for this task because of his firm grasp of all the disciplines listed above; he is ideal because he is distinguished in all of them.
Gathering historical, biblical, and theological data from across the centuries, Thiselton synthesizes it through his remarkable skill as an interpreter and philosophical thinker into a fully rounded study that derives from its subject matter prudent, insightful, and ground breaking suggestions for how the church can understand the Spirit in its distinct denominational expressions as well as in its unified expression as a body. As such, this book will serve as an exhilarating read to all interested in pneumatological questions. But it will also serve as instigative premise for discussion among Christians to develop a more panoramic understanding of the how the Spirit has been understood throughout history. Marketers often say “must-have” or “indispensable” or the like in regard to books. But with The Holy Spirit–in Biblical Teaching, through the Centuries and Today we are the privileged recipients of a gift; a gift that will surely enrich the lives of all who read it, but bring greater understanding and unity to the church universal.