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He Who Gives Life: The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit

He Who Gives Life: The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit

by Graham A. Cole, John S. FeinbergGraham A. Cole
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This comprehensive theology of the Holy Spirit examines and explains the role of the third member of the Trinity.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781581347920
Publisher: Crossway
Publication date: 09/28/2007
Series: Foundations of Evangelical Theology Series
Pages: 320
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x (d)

About the Author

Graham A. Cole (ThD, Australian College of Theology) is the dean and professor of biblical and systematic theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. An ordained Anglican minister, he has served in two parishes and was formerly the principal of Ridley College. Graham lives in Libertyville, Illinois, with his wife, Jules. He is a member at Church of the Redeemer in Highwood, Illinois.

John S. Feinberg (PhD, University of Chicago) is department chair and professor of biblical and systematic theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He is the author of Ethics for a Brave New World (with Paul D. Feinberg) and is general editor of Crossway’s Foundations of Evangelical Theology series.

Read an Excerpt



There is no higher pursuit than the worship of God. In fact we become like the God we adore and serve for good or ill. All depends upon the nature of the God or gods we follow. If we follow the living God of biblical revelation then we will image him. If we follow idols we will image them. A. W. Tozer saw this when he wrote,

What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us. ... The history of mankind will probably show that no people has ever risen above its religion, and man's spiritual history will positively demonstrate that no religion has ever been greater than its idea of God. ... Always the most revealing thing about the Church is her idea of God, just as her most significant message is what she says about Him or leaves unsaid, for her silence is often more eloquent than her speech. She can never escape the self-disclosure of her witness concerning God.

Tozer was on solid biblical ground for his view. As the psalmist says of the worship of idols in Psalm 115:8, "Those who make them become like them; so do all who trust in them." This is a firm biblical principle.


But where do we get our ideas of God? Evangelical theology prizes the Scriptures as the revelation of the only God there is. Without revelation from God our theology is blind and represents the best human guesses about the divine. Such guessing would make for an interesting chat show on late-night television but hardly a body of knowledge worth staking one's life on. Therefore this study will need to examine carefully the witness of Scripture. In so doing it assumes that Scripture ought to occupy a unique place in understanding God's relationship with creation and ourselves. The important doctrines that spell out that uniqueness include inspiration, inerrancy, sufficiency, clarity, and canon, to name a few. These are not the subject of this study but are presupposed by it. In other words, this study presupposes a high view of biblical authority, which is a defining characteristic of the evangelical tradition.

However, it is one thing to have such a high view of Scripture and quite another to interpret the Bible responsibly. A high view of Scripture requires a respectful hermeneutic. The Reformers had such a respectful and responsible interpretive approach summed up in the notion of the analogy of faith (analogia fidei), which took seriously the unity of the canon. Scripture is to interpret Scripture, Scripture is not to be interpreted against Scripture, and the plain Scripture is to interpret the obscure Scripture. I would add to these a fourth principle: Scripture is to be interpreted genre by genre.

However, sometimes conservatively minded Christians can read Scripture in a one-dimensional and wooden way. I recall talking to an elder in a church who insisted that if there wasn't an actual robbery informing Jesus' story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10, then Jesus was not the Son of God. Why? Because Jesus would have attempted to teach truth by a lie. "But it is parable!" I insisted, to little effect.

What then do the Scriptures tell us? As we shall see, the Scriptures reveal to us a God who is personal. Persons generate narratives or stories that can be told by them and not simply by us. Scripture contains much divine autobiography. God has his own stories. For example, God presents himself to the Israelites as the one who brought them out of the land of Egypt (Ex. 20:1–2). Unless our doctrine of the Spirit can be anchored firmly in the narratives of the self-presentation of the God of creation and redemption as found in the Bible, that doctrine has little, in fact, no claim on Christian allegiance.


Given that evangelical theologians have such a high regard for Scripture as God's Word written — albeit in human words — one might expect wrongly that other sources for theological reflection are thereby neglected. But in practice evangelical theologians work with tradition, or with what I call the witness of Christian thought, and do so also with a firm eye on the contemporary world of human predicament which we ourselves experience. We live outside of Eden. We live this side of the fall (Augustine's lapsus), or as French lay theologian Jacques Ellul (1912–1994) put it, "The Rupture" ("La Rupture"). Thus the evangelical theologian seeks to connect the text and today, past and present, the Word and the world. To make these connections both truthful and fruitful requires wisdom and not simply intelligence. Wisdom is our intelligence exercised within the attitudinal framework of the fear of the Lord (Prov. 1:7). Doing theology ought to be therefore a wisdom activity embodying a particular attitude of reverence toward God. When done so it becomes part of the Christian's reasonable worship — that is to say, worship understood in that broad NT sense of life lived in response to the gospel (Rom. 12:1–2) and not in the traditional but narrower sense of the corporate acknowledgment of the grandeur of God (as in Revelation 4–5).

This study of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit will need then not only to respect Scripture but also to interact with the witness of Christian thought. By that I mean the study will need to be in conversation, as it were, with the creeds and with the great theologians of the past and present who have turned their attention to the person and work of the Spirit of God. Basil of Caesarea, Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, Owen, Kuyper, Barth, Moltmann, and many others will need to be given their due. Doing theology is an ecclesiastical practice or it runs the risk of idiosyncrasy. Sometimes at a popular level evangelicals can act as though God has not been active in the world and in his people between St. Paul's conversion and their own. That trap we will need to avoid. Moreover this study will need to make connection with the issues surrounding the doctrine of the Spirit today in the world of human predicament. Last century, Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906–1945) asked, Who is Christ for us today? An analogous question may be asked of the Spirit: Who is the Holy Spirit for us today?

The theological enterprise, therefore, involves the foundational and normative Word of Revelation brought to bear on the World of Human Predicament with an awareness of the Witness of Christian Thought. To do so responsibly is a Work of Wisdom predicated on the fear of the Lord and is to be conducted in the Way of Worship offered to the living God.


In my view an evangelical approach to the doctrine of the Holy Spirit needs to be an evidence-based practice Philosophy offers a parallel. In their useful book What Philosophers Think, Julian Baggini and Jeremy Stangroom maintain,

What regulates the flow of ideas in philosophy is rational argumentation. Exactly what makes an argument rational is itself a philosophical question, but in general it is that any conclusions reached are based upon a combination of good evidence, good reasoning and self-evident basic principles of logic. (The 'evidence' philosophy draws upon is not usually the special data of science, but the kind of evidence which is available to all. These are facts which are established by every day experience or established science. In this way there is no special evidence-base for philosophy.)

Like philosophy, theology needs to have its ideas regulated. Like doing philosophy, doing theology is an evidence-based practice. Like philosophy, rational argument is a desideratum for theology as a discipline. But unlike philosophy, as Baggini and Stangroom conceive of it, theology does have a special evidence-base: namely, that provided by special revelation now crystallized as Holy Scripture and by general revelation as interpreted by that same Scripture.

Likewise any evidence provided by contemporary Christian experience needs to be viewed through the grid of Scripture and not the other way around, especially when the question of how best to describe the experience is under examination — a question to which we shall return in a later chapter.

The alternative to the above is to spin theological ideas out of our minds much like one of Francis Bacon's spiders which spins its web out of its own body. In contrast to such self-sufficient spiders, Dietrich Bonhoeffer can still teach a fresh generation when he writes,

We must learn to know the Scriptures again, as the Reformers and our fathers knew them. We must know the Scriptures first and foremost for the sake of our salvation. But besides this, there are ample reasons that make this requirement exceedingly urgent. How, for example, shall we ever attain certainty and confidence in our personal and church activity if we do not stand on solid biblical ground? It is not our heart that determines our course, but God's Word. But who in this day has any proper understanding of the need for scriptural proof? How often do we hear innumerable arguments 'from life' and 'from experience' put forward as the basis for the most crucial decisions but the argument of Scripture is missing. And this authority would perhaps point in exactly the opposite direction. It is not surprising, of course, that the person who attempts to cast discredit upon their wisdom should be the one who himself does not seriously read, know, and study the Scriptures. But one who will not learn to handle the Bible for himself is not an evangelical Christian.

Evidence-based theological practice provides scriptural support for its affirmations and denials. Moreover, that scriptural support will be utilized in a way that is sensitive to the biblical text in its immediate context in its literary unit in its book in the canon in the light of the flow of redemptive history.

This is not to say that there is no room for daring theological hypotheses. There is. But they need to be identified as such and offered to the church for debate as theologoumena (theological opinions) rather than as convictions. Some notion of dogmatic rank needs deployment when proposals are offered that far outrun the force of the scriptural evidence. If such proposals lead away from the body of divinity (teaching) found in Scripture then they are to be abandoned. If they are consistent with that body of divinity then they may be embraced heuristically until better are found.


A conventional way to periodize the Christian past is to divide it into four periods. The Patristic era covers late NT times to the eighth century, the Medieval Era covers the eighth century to the fifteenth, the Reformational one from the sixteenth to the seventeenth, and the Modern from the eighteenth until today. Let's examine briefly each period in turn — albeit in broad strokes.

The great topic of discussion and debate in the Patristic era concerned the ontology of the Spirit in relation to the essential Trinity rather than the work of the Spirit in the economy (administration) of salvation. Was the Spirit as much God as the Father is God and as the Son is God? The orthodox judgment — both East (Greek speaking) and West (Latin-speaking) — was strongly affirmative. The Spirit is to be worshiped with the Father and the Son, one God in three Persons. However, there is a plausible historical argument that despite the espoused equality of the Spirit with the Father and the Son in the Trinity there was operationally a "subordination" of the Spirit, especially in the West, as reflected in the somewhat minimal treatment of the Spirit in comparison with the Father and the Son in the great creeds of Christendom, whether Apostles', Nicene, or Athanasian.

The Medieval period saw further wrestling over the precise nature of the Spirit's relation to the Father and the Son within the triune Godhead with respect to the biblical ideas of the sending of the Spirit by the Father and the Son. Did these sendings reflect the inner life of God as Trinity or was the sending of the Spirit from the Son reflective only of an economic function? As Raymond E. Brown observes, "In the first millennium of Christianity at the great Councils the Churches could agree on God and, for the most part, on Jesus Christ; but East and West ultimately split apart over the Spirit." The filioque ("from the Son also") controversy, which we will explore in more than one place in subsequent discussion, engendered much bitterness and is part of the story of the schism of Eastern and Western Christianity (A.D. 1054) which continues to this day. The West embraces filioque. The East rejects it.

With Reformational Christianity, the conclusions of the Patristic era concerning the ontology of the Spirit (the person of the Spirit) were maintained in their Western form (Luther, Calvin, and Cranmer). What does emerge is more attention given to the work of the Spirit. Brown contends, "The Reformation was a battle among Western Christians who were united in the belief that the Spirit had come forth from the Son (as well as from the Father) but who were divided over how the Spirit functioned in the church." Luther (1483–1546) and Calvin (1509–1564), in particular, emphasized the work of the Spirit in conjunction with the Word to bring about faith both in response to the preached gospel and to Scripture whether taught or read. Both Reformers reacted strongly against the Roman Catholic claim that the Spirit worked in some exclusive way through the official spokespersons of that church: namely, "the hierarchy of bishops" as "the interpreters of the Christian faith." Likewise both Reformers reacted strongly against enthusiasts of the day with their stress on immediate Spirit experience. Calvin, in particular, contributed the lastingly fruitful notion of an inner witness of the Spirit in the believer to the objective Word of God (testimonium internum Spiritus Sancti). He is rightly described by J. I. Packer as "the theologian of the Holy Spirit," just as Athanasius (c. 296–373) is "the theologian of the incarnation" and Luther "of justification." In the next century the great Puritan divine John Owen (1616–1683) did pioneering work on the Spirit's role in progressive sanctification or the believer's growth in godliness.

The Modern period has witnessed a number of phases of interest in the Spirit's work. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the experiential dimensions of the Spirit's work were especially to the fore. The mission of the Spirit is to regenerate and sanctify. George Whitefield (1714–1770) especially thematized the former and John Wesley (1703–1791) the latter. Subsequently, in the nineteenth century the topic of Spirit-impelled sanctification was understood in terms of the experience of a "higher Christian life" and holiness before the Lord. In the early twentieth century modern Pentecostalism arose against this holiness background and out of a concern to serve the Lord with power in what was perceived to be an increasingly hostile world. The concern for power to serve was not confined to the rising Pentecostal movement. Prominent evangelists such as R. A. Torrey (1856–1928) also accented the need for "a baptism in the Spirit." At the present time a number of pneumatological currents are at work. There is the continued growth of the Pentecostal movement worldwide, the influence of the charismatic movement within mainline churches, and the rise of "Third Wave" congregations. There is continued interest in such issues as filioque, the Spirit and the power to serve, the Spirit and the gifting of today's church, the Spirit and the doctrine of the church (ecclesiology per se), the Spirit and the use of gendered language in addressing and describing God, the Spirit and the liberation of oppressed people, and finally the Spirit and claims of authentic religious experience in religions other than Christianity. This list is indicative rather than exhaustive.


Questions constitute the lifeblood of both conversation and critical inquiry. This is so with theological discussion and inquiry. Important questions for our study include:

* What does the Bible say about the Holy Spirit?

* How is the Spirit characterized?

* Is the Spirit a person?

* Is the Spirit God?

* If the Spirit is God, should we then pray to the Holy Spirit?

* How is the Spirit to be understood in Trinitarian terms?

* What are we to make of the elusiveness of the Spirit, who is like the wind?

* What role does the Spirit play in creation?

* How does the Spirit make the deep things of God known?

* What is the Spirit's relation to the institutions of Israel: prophets, priests, kings, tabernacle, and temple?

* How does the Spirit figure in the messianic hopes of Israel?

* Were OT believers regenerated and indwelt by the Spirit?

* What is the Spirit's relation to Jesus the Messiah?

* How does the Spirit connect to the life of the believer?

* What is the blasphemy against the Spirit?

* How does the Spirit connect to the life of the church?

* What is the role of the Spirit with regard to Scripture?


Excerpted from "He Who Gives Life"
by .
Copyright © 2007 Graham Arthur Cole.
Excerpted by permission of Good News Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Series Introduction,
List of Abbreviations,
For Further Reading,

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"This latest addition to the Foundations of Evangelical Theology series maintains the high standard already set. Graham Cole has written the widest-ranging textbook on pneumatology that currently exists. Meticulous and sharp in handling texts, and scrupulous on matters of method, he offers us cool, clear, sober answers to more questions about the Holy Spirit than probably any of us have hitherto thought to ask. New ground is not broken, but solid ground of a mainstream Reformed sort is set forth throughout. Well done, Dr. Cole!"
J. I. Packer, Board of Governors' Professor of Theology, Regent College

"Dr. Graham Cole's superbly written book is a thorough biblical and theological study of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit that may well become a standard work on the subject. The volume is marked by careful exegesis of the scriptural references to the Spirit, each of which is interpreted within the salvation-historical flow of God's redemptive purposes. A convinced Trinitarian theologian, Dr. Cole listens carefully to the contributions made by earlier generations of Christian writers from a range of disciplines, including biblical studies, systematic theology, and historical theology. Authors from both the Eastern and Western traditions are drawn in as pertinent, and challenging questions for our generation are raised. Issues of doctrine, understanding, and experience are drawn together in this fine book as the author guides his readers in appropriate worship of the Triune God, Father, Son, and Spirit."
Peter T. O'Brien, Former Vice-Principal and Senior Research Fellow and Emeritus Faculty Member, Moore Theological College, Australia

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