BOOKS READ AUGUST 2021
Graham A Cole: He Who Gives Life: The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit, h/b, Wheaton, Crossway Books, 2007
Graham Cole’s impressive book about the Holy Spirit is part of the American Foundations of Evangelical Theology Series. Although Cole writes from an evangelical perspective he gives a generous account of writers coming from Roman Catholic, liberal and even Islamic perspectives. This is not a book for beginners in theology. The language is sophisticated, Latin phrases are not always transliterated, the concepts are at times quite difficult, and Cole’s background in philosophy as well as theology means that his explanations of concepts and ideas use philosophical terminology (although usually with explanatory footnotes).
A reader used to reading theology will still find this work challenging and surprising. Long held ideas may well be shown to need further work. Cole is generous with his opponents and gives them a very fair hearing, but then goes on to show why he disagrees. A form of words that he uses more than once about various confident assertions of theologians and writers about the Holy Spirit is “How does [author’s name] know this? This all takes time and effort on the part of the reader and the footnotes are copious and detailed.
After a demanding introduction Cole deals with:
- the elusiveness of the Spirit … The Spirit and the Triune God including detailed discussion about the Filoque clause and interpretative ideas from Basil of Caesarea, Augustine and Richard of St Victor. (the Filioque clause from the Nicene Creed is that The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. Orthodox Christianity believes that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father only.) Cole suggests it should read: The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son!
- Old Testament perspectives on the Ministry of the Spirit
- The Spirit and Israel
- The Spirit and the hope of Israel (note: this makes 3 significant chapters on Old Testament material!)
- New Testament perspectives on the Ministry of the Spirit
- The Spirit, The Church, and the Hope of Glory
- The Spirit and ideas about the ‘Deification’ of the Spirit
- Implications for Christian belief and practice including “What is Jesus doing now?” and “The Individual believer and the Fullness of the Spirit”
- Are all of the Gifts of the Spirit for Today?
- Speaking in Tongues
- The Spirit and Knowing God and
- Discerning the Spirit: Implications for Belief and Practice.
- “The Magnificence of Divine Selflessness” (which is a summary and pulling together of the whole book.)
The book comes with a very helpful theological glossary; Suggestions for further reading; and Scripture and General indexes.
Some ideas that impressed or challenged me:
p.23 There is no higher pursuit than the worship of God
p.24 A high view of Scripture requires a respectful hermeneutic
p.24 Scripture is to interpret Scripture, Scripture is not to be interpreted against Scripture, and the plain Scripture is to interpret the obscure Scripture.
p24 fn3 …At times, however, the conservative Christian appears to read the daily newspaper with more sophistication than the Scriptures.
p.25 It is not our heart that determines our course, but God’s Word. [Bonhoeffer]
p.33 Systematic theology requires (i) The narrative of Scripture must be given its due weight, and (ii) both the writer will need to write and the reader will need to read intentionally coram Deo (before God).
p.33 “If you are a theologian, you truly pray. if you truly pray, you are a theologian.” (Evagrius Pontus).
p.33 “Christian theology begins, continues and ends with the inexhaustible mystery of God,” (Daniel L. Migliore).
p.33 “Any sound theology of the Holy Spirit..will be left with a certain remainder, a surplus unaccounted for, an area of mystery.” (Richard B. Gaffin).
p.36 Theology must not be left unapplied.
p.41. An evangelical —albeit controversially so—theologian. (re Clark H. Pinnock).
p. 44 The gracious and merciful God is also the judge of his people.
p.45 God is to be believed and obeyed. Moses is not Plato with a Hebrew voice.
p.45 “Theology states this [the greatness of God] by describing him as incomprehensible—not in the sense that logic is somehow different from what it is for us, so that we cannot follow the working of his mind at all, but in the sense that we can never understand him fully, just because he is infinite and we are finite. [J I Packer].
p.45 Upholding the mystery of God or the incomprehensibility of God should keep idolatry at bay….Calvin: “man’s nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of gods.” (Institutes)
p.46 The God of biblical depiction is untameable. There is no one like him.
p. 49 Barth argued that “The Gospel proclaims a God utterly distinct from humanity.” Only God can make God known, and he does so in Jesus Christ.
p.50 God cannot be domesticated and there are limits to our conceptualizing God.
p.50 “The Trinity can be stated in paradoxical and symbolic language, but it cannot be resolved into a rational system.” Donald Bloesch
p51 “Divine revelation does not completely erase God’s transcendant mystery, inasmuch as God the revealer transcends his own revelation. Carl F. H. Henry.
p52 Believing that God is mysterious in the sense of incomprehensible has a number of practical corollaries. At the attitudinal level, humility is the appropriate virtue.
p.60 Immanuel Kant has nothing good to say about the concept of the Trinity. Writing at the height of the eighteenth century Enlightenment, he argued: “The doctrine of the Trinity, taking literally, has no practical relevance at all, even if we think we understand it; and it is even more clearly irrelevant if we realise it transcends all our concepts. “
p.61 “….it is the doctrine of the Trinity that makes the doctrine of God actually Christian. “ (Brevard Childs)
p.62 What a culture teaches its young is the true index of what it values.
p.64 Re the trinity: …the definition of a Biblical doctrine in such un-Biblical language can be justified only on the principle that it is better to preserve the truth of Scripture than the words of Scripture. [B. B. Warfield].
p. 75 Love may characterize a pair as in a marriage of a man and a woman, but the fullest love requires a third. The perfection of love requires sharing with a third. Richard of St Victor.
p.79 Count Zinzendorf: ..understood the Trinity in familial categories: the Father as “our true Father,” the Spirit as “our true Mother,” and the Son as “our true Brother.”
p.81 fn81 “There are undoubtedly mysteries about him which none of us understands. But we must recognize that this doesn’t mean we know nothing about him whatever or that none of our claims, whether literal or figurative, are true. [Feinberg]
p.105 In the Old Testament references to the Spirit, are these texts about the Holy Spirit per se or about God the Spirit in action?
p109. In relation to the Old Testament: there is a “necessity of a multi-level reading of Scripture” (Childs)….we need a willingness to work with both historical exegesis and Christian theological interpretation.
p.111 There is no Biblical warrant for Calvin’s idea of common grace.
p113 Re translating “Ruach” as ‘wind/breath’ or ‘Spirit’ there is a need for modesty about our claims.
p.152. Re C1st Judaism. The problem is that C1st Judaism was such a variegated phenomenon. Rabbinic Judaism …was only one of the kinds of Judaism present at the time.
p.162 What is evident is that Jesus’ public ministry, whether as preacher, healer, or exorcist, is not to be understood without reference to the Spirit of God.
p.163 There are no references to the Holy Spirit in any of the accounts of the Transfiguration. 5 stars
Janet Morley: The Heart’s Time: A Poem a day for Lent and Easter, p/b, London, SPCK, 2011
Janet Morley is a freelance writer, speaker and workshop leader and has put together this excellent selection of poems about a range of themes surrounding Christian faith. While it is designed around the weeks leading to Easter the poems and commentary can be read with profit at any time of the year. Ann and I have just finished using this collection for our daily morning devotion together and have found it to be a stimulating, thoughtful and helpful start to each day.
The poems range widely in terms of authorship with classic works by George Herbert, Augustine, Christina Rossetti, Milton and William Blake mixed up with Emily Dickinson, R. S. Thomas, Margaret Atwood, E. E. Cummings, Rowan Williams, Philip Larkin and Seamus Heaney to name just a few. Not all the writers are “Bible believing Christians” but every poem throws out a genuine spiritual challenge and rich food for thought, especially when teased out by a skilled commentator.
Morley has also included a significant number of lesser known poets and these works encourage the reader to explore some less familiar spiritual challenges. Each poem comes with thoughtful commentary and analysis, not too technical but always helpful and there is a single question at the end of each day to ponder and think or write about. Each week has a different theme and these are: turning aside to the miracle; expressing our longings; struggle; being where we are; facing suffering and death; altered perspectives; holy week; and resurrection.
Poetry is not everyone’s cup of tea and if you’re not generally a reader of poetry can I suggest this book is an excellent way to begin and be surprised. If you have lived with poetry all your life these presentations will remind you of treasures you haven’t read for a while as well as opening up challenging devotional thoughts from a new perspective.
In her introduction Morley reminds us that Poetry makes us slow down, (p. ix) and she quotes Nicholas Albery:
‘To know a poem
is to slow down
to the heart’s time.’
If you find and read this book I am sure you will find an antidote to the irritation and loneliness of lockdown. I warmly commend it.
Chinua Achebe: No Longer At Ease; African Writers Series; Illustrated, Bruce Onobrakpeya, p/b, London, Heinemann, 1967 (1960)
A powerful and deeply moving novel of a young Nigerian student, Obi Okonkwo, who gains an academic scholarship to study in England, obtaining a first class honours degree in English Literature and then returns to NIgeria as a Government public servant, on a good salary. Obi’s family are deeply Christian and his scholarship to England was provided by the village of Umuofia who had formed a union with the aim of collecting money to send their brightest and best to study in England.
Obi of course returns to his village of a changed man, with a sophisticated love of English Literature, a strong sense of his own status and entitlement, and little desire to follow the dreams and vision of the Umuofia Union or his strict Christian parents especially in the area of whom he should marry. Obi readily obtains a job with a reasonable salary but he has repayments to make to the Union and there are financial expectations from his family and friends as well as some hefty Government taxes. With little experience in having anything like a regular salary Obi spends his money at a pace that far outweighs his means and inevitable trouble ensues. In addition he is attracted to a girl from a tribe ostracized by his Umuofia family.
In emerging cultures engaging in an attempt to participate in the seemingly endless wealth of the first world there is a desire to assist one’s friends and family and to demonstrate with material things that one has “arrived” and has succeeded. It is not so much greed as it is a sense of obligations. The short answer of course is that the globe has never been able to afford the extremities of first world greed and neither can its newest rivals like China sustain unlimited growth and power. Achebe does not write about Obi to condemn him but to demonstrate that this young graduate, unprepared for the cultural “Western” explosion occurring in Africa in the mid-C20th and lost between his family’s Christian values and his own search for love, simply loses his way.
Achebe writes with unerring clarity and tension as Obi’s life, love and family begin to unravel. He sees it happening but seems powerless to stem the tide of moral, family and job pressures in a rapidly changing Nigerian society bravely celebrating its independence from colonial rule. Chinua Achebe, who died 2013 aged 82 is widely regarded at Nigeria’s finest writer and his success lead to an avalanche of African authors creating a new literary tradition. Achebe was a major critic of the way European writers have written about and misunderstood African life and reality. He took particular aim at Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, and his case was well supported by Palestinian author and polymath Edward W. Said amongst many others. Whatever one’s view of Conrad, after reading Achebe, you can never see Heart of Darkness in quite the same way as before.
No Longer At Ease is a thought provoking and emotionally demanding read and for Australian readers, inevitably invokes thoughts of Aboriginal writers and artists making their way in a highly Westernised society but one which is becoming increasingly multi-cultural and open to a broad range of world views. 5 stars.
Douglas Adams: The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, p/b, London, Pan, 1983 (1979)
Radical atheist, sometime member of Monty Python, author, playwright, Dr Who script editor and producer, bodyguard, chicken shed cleaner, an Apple Master computer buff, an environmental activist and stage revue director amongst several other jobs. He was six foot five, married with one child and died at just 49 years of age after a heart attack. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was the first of a five book “trilogy” of life in the Galactic world.
I have read very little science fiction but I have always been attracted by the notion of the meaning of life being 42! I enjoyed reading this fast moving comic/sad story which seems to see the various planets of the universe as sharing many of the problems known to us on planet Earth.
The result is a fast-moving, spit second life changing romp through space with the unlikely otherwise unremarkable Arthur Dent from Earth whisked away from our planet as a hitch-hiker on a spaceship just seconds before the destruction of our troubled world by Vogons building a new galactic superhighway. With fellow earthsider Trillian, and Galactic explorers Ford Prefect and Zaphod Beelblebrox plus the depressed robot Marvin, they find their way after many near misses to the mythical foundation planet of the universe named Magrathea, ruled by two busy mice. With this introduction, I am sure you can’t wait to read the story! The truth is that Adams has a brilliantly amusing turn of phrase, the book is quite short and it is surprisingly hard to put down. 5 stars.