Book Review: Anthony Thiselton – The Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit may perhaps be the least talked about person within the Trinity in churches today. In this book, Anthony Thiselton sets out to present a historical survey of the Holy Spirit throughout the centuries. The book is divided into three parts. The first covers the biblical teaching of the Holy Spirit. This includes references of the Holy Spirit in both the Old and New Testament. A considerable amount of time is spent on discussing what the spiritual gifts are especially the ones listed in 1 Corinthians 12. What I appreciate about Thiselton is that being an authority in the area of hermeneutics, he is able to provide a larger backdrop in which we are to understand the more controversial gifts. For instance, regarding the word of wisdom (logos sophias) and knowledge (logos gnoseos) listed in 1 Cor 12:8, he suggests together with other scholars that these gifts ought to be understood in light of the entire epistle to the Corinthians especially in 1 Cor 1:18-4:21 and 1 Cor 8 and that wisdom most likely relates to the practicalities of “God’s saving deed in the crucified Christ and his revelation on the cross” while knowledge would be that of understanding Christian truths.  He continues by mentioning that both these gifts within Pauline theology are not such much spontaneous as it is trained judgement and hard work in learning the truths concerning God.

Part 2 of his book covers how people within history understood the Holy Spirit starting with the early church moving all the way to post reformation. Thiselton gives a very brief background for each person he introduces. This is particularly helpful in understanding the historical developments of doctrines and beliefs. However, due to the sheer amount of data within the 1800 years of history which he tries to cover, this section becomes brief and helpful only in painting a broad sketch of how each theologian understood the Holy Spirit. For a more detailed and thorough account of beliefs held by the individual theologians it might still be better to refer to their own individual works.

The last section of his book explores the Holy Spirit in modern day theology. This section was interesting to me as it explored not just major theologians such as Moltmann and the late Pannenberg but also Pentecostal theologians such as Fee and Yong. The author also does not shy away from controversial movements such as the Azusa Street Revival or the Toronto Blessing and offers a friendly critique of the third wave renewal movement especially on its dualistic view of the supernatural vs natural and healing by suggesting that there is perhaps an over realized eschatology. In the author’s own words, “The problem that arises is the timing of the eschatological fulfillment.”

In summary I find this book to be an invaluable resource for anyone interested in the area of pneumatology given its breadth. Thiselton being an expert in both hermeneutics and pneumatology has written a wonderful piece of work surveying the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps it is appropriate to spend more time looking into who the Holy Spirit is and the role he plays. If so, apart from Scripture, I heartily recommend this book. The only thing that might frighten people is its technicality and sheer volume spanning 500 pages. But for those who are willing to persevere through, I am certain that they will find it most valuable.

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