The late Reformed Theologian R. C. Sproul was a prolific writer, preacher and teacher. Some of his reflections on God and God’s Word have been helpfully distilled into the ‘Crucial Questions’ series, one of which I am reviewing today.
‘Who is the Holy Spirit?’ is a crucial, nay, vital question for Christians to ask, and also for those of us seeking to engage the things of God with the people who live in God’s world but do not yet know him. In this short, readable book Sproul offers some solid biblical reflection on who the Holy Spirit is, and what the Holy Spirit does. Over six short chapters, we explore what the Bible says about the third person of the Trinity. Each chapter unpacks a key role of the Holy Spirit, and offers a sound and biblical foundation for understanding what God says about who God the Holy Spirit is. Focusing heavily on the New Testament, but not entirely (At all, especially given the Triune act of Creation) Sproul unpacks what it means to say that the Holy Spirit is ‘The Third Person’, ‘The Life Giver’, ‘The Advocate’, ‘The Sanctifier’, ‘The Anointer’ and ‘The Illuminator’.
Writing as someone in the charismatic/continuationist wing of the Church, I found some of the correctives and teaching in this book very helpful. For example:
“Yes, the Holy Spirit at times leads people to specific destinations or to specific tasks, but the primary leading of the Spirit, as set forth in Scripture, is to holiness. It is His power working in us that helps us grow in holiness. We need to be very careful to go to the pages of the Scripture to learn about God’s will and the leading of the Spirit, and not simply to listen to the popular teachings of the Christian subculture in which we live. So, a primary reason why the Holy Spirit is called the Holy Spirit is because it is His specific task to enable followers of Christ in their quest for sanctification.“
Arguably, I most often engage with the particular Christian subculture I find myself in – we all do, and we should all be mindful of that and open to correction and insight from faithful brothers and sisters from other parts of God’s family. I found the above from Sproul deeply helpful, reminding us to pursue holiness. Indeed, I was reminded of Joshua 3:5, which directly links the holiness of God’s people to God’s miraculous activity: “Joshua told the people, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the LORD will do amazing things among you.”“. Sproul is inviting readers to focus on God, and the holiness that God invites us into.
With that theme of holiness in mind, Sproul’s chapter on illumination is refreshing. The Holy Spirit loves to bring God’s people into deeper knowledge of God and greater understanding of God’s Word. A key element of this is the Holy Spirit drawing certain parts of scripture to mind, or using the Bible to convict and challenge us. I’ve certainly experienced that. I was thus amused and deeply encouraged by Sproul’s reflection on 1 Corinthians 2:6-10, where the Holy Spirit is described as ‘searching the deep things of God’. Thus, “Paul is telling us here that the Holy Spirit searches the depths of God for us. The Spirit acts as a searchlight and shines on the text of Scripture when we read it, giving us the capacity to understand the meaning of it“. Amen!
This little book is a helpful primer on the person and work of the Holy Spirit. Rooted in the Bible, and surprisingly open to/compatible with a charismatic understanding of things, Who is the Holy Spirit? is an encouraging and refreshing read. I’d recommend it warmly to any Christian seeking to understand more of who God is and how God works.