This review appeared in the Apr-Jun 2009 vol. 166 no. 2 issue of Biblotheca Sacra, DTS’s quarterly academic journal.Subscribe Today
He Who Gives Life: The Doctrine of the Holy SpiritCrossway, Wheaton, IL August 16, 2007
Cole is professor of biblical and systematic theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. This is the fourth volume to date in the Foundations of Evangelical Theology series. This book measures up to the high standards established by the others in the series. The approach is biblical and historical, focusing on the scriptural teaching and then how the church has understood and read the texts throughout history. Important to understanding Cole’s approach is his conviction that “unless our doctrine of the Spirit can be anchored firmly in the narratives of the self-presentation of the God of creation and redemption as found in the Bible, that doctrine has little, in fact, no claim on Christian allegiance” (p. 25). Cole’s reading of the Scriptures is intentionally Reformed in its perspective.
Cole’s treatment of pneumatology is divided into three sections, and then a final section which is a brief discussion of divine selflessness. In the first part Cole begins with the reminder that God is a mystery and beyond human ability to comprehend fully. This is particularly the case with the doctrine of the work of the Spirit of God, as Jesus explained to Nicodemus (John 3:8). Cole’s discussion of “The Elusiveness of the Spirit” is an excellent introduction to the subject matter. Also in this section he treats the historical development of the doctrine of the Trinity, defending this essential Christian doctrine, particularly the church’s process of understanding the deity of the third person.
In the second part Cole examines the person and work of the Spirit in the Old Testament. He argues for a dual reading of the Hebrew Scriptures, which allows the exegete to see the third person of the Godhead revealed in these texts. In short, Cole distinguishes between historical exegesis, which “stops once the method has uncovered the horizon of the original audience” and Christian theological interpretation, which “recognizes that the Holy Spirit is the ultimate author of Scripture and was active in the OT as such” (pp. 106–7). “If Jesus could find himself spoken of in the OT testimony (Luke 24:44–47) and the NT writers could find Christ in the OT (e.g., Paul in 1 Cor. 10:1–4), why cannot the Christian reader find God the Holy Spirit there too?” (p. 110). At the end of this section a helpful excursus discusses whether Old Testament believers were regenerated; Cole believes they were.
The third section turns to the New Testament testimony of the Spirit. Here Cole treats the Spirit’s work in empowering Christ and His role in the life of the church. Readers might be surprised to find no separate discussion of the Spirit’s work in the individual Christian. Instead, the implications for the individual are discussed in the context of the community. Cole explains, “Since the rise of modern individualism it comes as so natural in the West to think first of the atom and next, if at all, of the molecule. Or put another way, we concern ourselves with the one and next, if at all, with the many. However, as we shall see, the accent in the scriptural revelation is otherwise” (p. 35). This section includes an excellent treatment of spiritual gifts, including a nicely nuanced discussion of the diversity of evangelical views of contemporary prophecy and tongues. Cole defends an “open but discerning” continuationist position (pp. 255–58). This section concludes with an outstanding defense of the Reformed doctrine of word and Spirit. Cole explains that “God has made himself known in prophetic word, gospel word, and supremely the incarnate Word. The crystallization of such revelation is found in the scriptural word. And the Spirit is pivotally involved in each” (p. 261).
As an explanation of contemporary Reformed pneumatology, this book is highly recommended. The author’s serious engagement with the biblical texts, his consistent application of theological hermeneutics, his interaction with the history of interpretation, his irenic presentation of diverse perspectives, and his engaging discussion of the practical implications of the doctrines serve as a model of evangelical biblical theology. Pastors, students, and Christian leaders will find it a helpful resource. It is likely that most readers will find themselves disagreeing with Cole at some points, but they will find alternative views represented fairly and the defense of the author’s views presented clearly.
—Glenn R. Kreider