This is an older book that I’ve had on my shelf and to read least for a number of years. In it Stephen R. Guthrie brings together two theological themes – the Holy Spirit and what it means to be human – in a way that is both beautifully written and fundamentally challenging. With a foreword by Jeremy Begbie, this is also a book deeply engaged in the arts and culture, which is a thread that runs through the book.
This book is quite a readable size – around 200 or so pages – but is quite dense. There is, simply, a lot here. In part 1 we cover jazz, human being, community, worship and more – there were many moments I found myself having to google musical terms/things I don’t know much about. But this first section is definitely worth the work. We consider here the making of a human – with a chapter on each of ‘humanity’, ‘human bodies’ and ‘community’. The role of the Spirit in creation, creativity and incarnation is writ large – a helpful reminder. We cannot understand what it means to be human, or be becoming human, without the ministry of the Holy Spirit:
“from the beginning of the biblical story to its consummation, the Spirit is at work fashioning and refashioning our humanity. The Holy Spirit is the humanising Spirit.“
From thinking about human formation (both in a literal, mechanical sense, and the more spiritual sense [and the important intertwining!]) we move on to the methods and practicalities of ‘making’. How does the Spirit ‘do’? How do artists create things? What does that mean? These and other questions are carefully and provocatively engaged with – featuring a blend of biblical material and some really helpful technical stuff. As with the first part of this book, the Spirit’s role is front and centre:
“The Spirit empowers the prophet to speak precisely in order to free people… The biblical texts recognise the blindness and deception that pervades human society, human language, and human institutions. It is the role of the prophet, speaking by the Spirit, to bring sight to the blind and hearing to the death. The Spirit exposes the illusions and pretensions of society and frees us from its deception“
Having thought about what it means to be human and to be transformed, and then having traced Guthrie’s prophetic pneumatology (side note – the middle section of this book would be immensely encouraging to artists and other creative followers of Jesus), we move on to ‘A World Remade’. This, in technical terms, is eschatology, the hints of things to come and the promise of the Kingdom of God. One of the elements that stuck out to me here was Guthrie’s treatment of discernment, as somehow seeing the things of the Kingdom, by the Spirit: “Discernment… presumes awareness, sensitivity, and openness – a willingness to ‘see more’ and ‘look deeper’ to ‘see God in all things’“. This discernment is qualified biblically and Christologically – this is definitely not pantheism. The final chapter of this section contains a profound and engaging meditation on beauty, particularly with reference to Aquinas, that I found quite personally moving (though I was reading the book on holiday on a beautiful beach!).
Overall, then, this is a demanding but helpful book. Outside of those of us interested in pneumatology and theological anthropology, this is of note to those wanting to think deeply about spiritual formation, Christian engagement with the arts, and culture. I could see this book being of particular help in pastoring arts/music students – and will likely recommend it thusly.