Essay / Theology

Here Comes Pentecost: Good Books on the Holy Spirit

Hey, according to the liturgical calendar, it’s Pentecost Sunday! Quick, think about the Holy Spirit. Here are some of my favorite books on pneumatology, off the top of my head. I’m sure I’m leaving out a few even better books, but there’s an embarrassment of riches on this topic.

Athanasius, Letters to Serapion on the Holy Spirit (4th c.). Athanasius wrote voluminously on the deity of Christ, and though he’s trinitarian his phrases often sounds binitarian. Not until late in life did he turn attention to the Spirit. But when he did so, he made up for lost time. These letters don’t just read like binitarianism with the Spirit tacked on as an afterthought. The circuit of the Trinity closes in the thought of the mature Athanasius, and a spark jumps: “In the Holy Spirit, the Word makes glorious the creation, and, by bestowing upon it divine life and sonship, draws it to the Father. But that which joins creation to the Word cannot belong to the creatures; and that which bestows sonship upon the creation could not be alien from the Son.”

Basil the Great, On the Holy Spirit (late fourth century). You can’t believe how exciting and satisfying a long exegetical discussion of prepositions can be, until you watch Basil work the “through whoms” and “to whoms” and “from whoms” of the New Testament. Why is the Nicene Creed’s article on the Holy Spirit (“Lord and giver of life, who proceeds from the Father, who is worshiped and glorified together with the Father and the Son”) so good? Basil and his colleagues hammered it out.

Robert Philip, The Love of the Spirit Traced in His Work (1836). Has anybody read this book (Joel Beeke, put down your hand)? It’s a great biblical meditation on knowing the Spirit personally, knowing his love, through his work in the history of salvation. Kind of John Owen lite, with all the pluses (clarity and readability!) and minuses (necessary drop in IQ and power) that implies.

Andrew Murray, The Spirit of Christ (1888). I know BB Warfield panned this book in a harsh review, but it’s Murray’s best. He even uses footnotes, a rarity for Murray. Read it in small doses, remain sober, and you’ll find Murray can talk you into an awareness of the Spirit’s presence better than any other author. Here it is, free.

H.C.G. Moule, Veni Creator: Thoughts on the Person and Work of the Holy Spirit (1890). The title is a prayer, and the book keeps turning into one as well. Moule is well-read, seasoned, and passionate. “The Spirit is the life-giver, Christ is the life.”

Abraham Kuyper, The Work of the Holy Spirit (1899). This thing is almost 700 pages long, and it covers everything. It’s almost a systematic theology done from the point of view of pneumatology. If you’re ever tempted to say “Nobody ever wrote anything about the Holy Spirit and _____,” think twice and check Kuyper. He even refutes the neo-Kohbruggians, whoever they are.

R.A. Torrey, The Person and Work of the Holy Spirit as Revealed in the Scriptures and Personal Experience (1910). Torrey starts out with solid biblical theology, and is clear that we don’t get the Spirit, the Spirit gets us. Torrey (wrongly, I think) uses “baptism in the Spirit” to speak of a definite moment, subsequent to salvation, in which the Spirit supernaturally empowers the believe’s work and witness. But here’s the tricky part: He had been preaching this for years (claimed he got it from Moody) all over the world before Pentecostalism broke out. When Pentecostalism happened, he denounced it. But he never quit urging his people to pray through for a definite experience of empowerment.

Yves Congar, I Believe in the Holy Spirit (1980). A sprawling, three-volume affair (printed as one by Crossroad Herder, thank you!) with digressions as good as the main text, footnotes that really go somewhere, and an author who has read just about everything. French Dominican genius Congar probably could have used an editor, but this is a guy who survived a Vatican silencing and came back to be a Cardinal, so who was going to edit him?

Sinclair Ferguson, The Holy Spirit (Contours of Christian Theology series). I can’t find my copy of this, but it’s great. I probably lent it to somebody. If you have it, give it back. Ferguson has the greatest depth of insight into the biblical material, but is also able to frame the discussion systematically. It’s a book that not only informs your pneumatology, but makes you want to re-read the Bible to see how you missed so much.

Gerald Hawthorne, The Presence and the Power: The Significance of the Holy Spirit in the Life and Ministry of Jesus (1994). If you’ve never thought about the role of the Spirit in the life of Jesus, here’s your first book on the subject.

Gordon Fee, God’s Empowering Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Letters of Paul (1994). Trust this Pentecostal Bible scholar to find the Holy Spirit everywhere in Paul. The book runs nearly a thousand pages, but that’s because it’s a commentary on every Spirit passage in Paul. The synthesis section at the end has been published all by itself, but I’m not going to tell you its name. Because, you know, read the whole thing!

Gary Badcock, Light of Truth and Fire of Love: A Theology of the Holy Spirit (1997). Best overview of the history of the doctrine (doesn’t skip the millennium and a half between the Fathers and the Victorians like I did), great systematic insights, and plenty of Trinity.

Christopher J. H. Wright, Knowing the Holy Spirit Throught the Old Testament (2006). This is an Old Testament Bible study, short and sweet. But Wright is not just rehashing verses, he is consistently asking, have you met this person, this Holy Spirit?

James M. Hamilton, God’s Indwelling Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Old and New Testaments (2006). This is not a study of everything about the Spirit in Old and New Testaments, but about what changed in the work of the Spirit at the changing of the covenants. A book-length gloss on “He is with you, and He shall be in you,” carefully weighing the continuity and discontinuity between the testaments. I’d have put something even more Baptist and dispensational on this list if I could have found it.

Many more could be added. But you’ve only got one week to read, because next week is Trinity Sunday, and there are a few books about that, too!

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