Book Review: Engaging with The Holy Spirit

Engaging the Holy Spirit Book Review

Ever since I ‘changed my mind’ on a few things, I’ve always been interested in finding one short-ish book that I can point to, and lend to people who I know disagree with me. On the issue of women in ministry, it’s either Lucy Peppiatt’s Rediscovering Scripture’s Vision for Women, Andrew Bartlett’s Men and  Women in Christ, or Eric Schumacher and Elyse Fitzpatrick’s Worthy as a conversation starter. On the broad and complex issue(s) of the Holy Spirit, particularly in terms of God’s activity today, it’s been less easy to do that. This book, though (which is, embarassingly and admittedly, quite old now, having been published in 2007!), joins Craig Keener’s magesterial 2 vol. Miracles and Simon Ponsonby’s MORE as a book I will start to recommend widely.

Graham A. Cole’s Engaging With the Holy Spirit: Six Crucial Questions is an older little book from Apollos, IVP UK’s academic imprint. It’s an edited version of the teaching Cole gave at an Oak Hill School of Theology – and it is really, really good. In fact, I wonder if it’s been ignored by many because of it’s affiliations and age. It certainly should be required reading for those of us in charismatic contexts, and also our evangelical friends and family seeking to understand us!

Cole’s six questions are, as he notes “both crucial and real. People ask them.” What are they, I hear the reader of this review cry? Well, never fear;

  • What is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit? “the blasphemy against the Spirit is that self-righteous persistent refusal to embrace the offer of salvation in Christ
  • How may we resist the Holy Spirit? “In today’s world we resist the Holy Spirit by resisting the Word of God, which the Spirit has inspired, its faithful interpretation and application
  • Ought we to pray to the Holy Spirit? Yes.
  • How do we quench the Holy Spirit? “Being open to the Spirit but discerning about claims concerning the Spirit is the way forward“. Amen!
  • How do we grieve the Holy Spirit? “If we claim to be Christian, yet live as though Christ has not come, then we grieve the Spirit“. Soberingly, amen.
  • How does the Holy Spirit fill us? “The command to be filled by the Spirit is addressed to the congregation, not to the individual as such… The Christian gathering is neither a concert for Christotainment, nor it is a contemporary version of the lecture hall of Tyrannus where we meet together to hear a Bible lecture – albeit without term papers. Instead it is the temple of the living God. Christ died for nothing less“.

I hope that brief overview gives a sense of the utility of this book. Throughout, Cole’s rigour and love of the Bible are clear, as is his openness to the text and respect for a range of views. At its heart, this book echoes one of the roles of the Holy Spirit, in that it glorifies Christ. For example, touching on issues which are constantly present in charismatic forms of Christianity, Cole writes “According to John, any such spirit that denied the incarnation was actually the anti-Christ at work (1 John 4:1-3). Gullibility is not a Christian virtue, and deception, either self-deception or devilish, is a real possibility“. He goes on, emphasising again the need for charismatics to have and hold a high Christology: “Any claimed experience of the Spirit that detracts from the dignity of Christ as truly God and truly human, and from the integrity of his saving work, is not of the Spirit (1 John 4:1-3)“.

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