A Review of “The Holy Spirit” by Christopher Holmes

“God’s work towards the outside – what I will call the economy – has assumed disproportionate significance in contemporary theology,” says Christopher Holmes. Much of academic theological focus in more recent years has emphasized God’s relation to the world, and as a result has lacked an equal emphasis on the relations of God within Himself (the ontological trinity). In The Holy Spirit, Christopher Holmes aims to correct this error. It is God’s inner life which interests him, and in writing this volume he aims to ground the economic trinity within the ontological. This is a welcome focus and yet seems to overshadow the monograph’s specific focus on the person and work of the Holy Spirit. Despite being a fantastic volume in dogmatics, The Holy Spirit leaves many issues related to this doctrine unaddressed.

The New Studies in Dogmatics is a fantastic new series in systematic theology which aims to “fill the gap between introductory theology textbooks and advanced theological monographs” (15). Holmes’ work serves as a good example of building upon the introductory material and expanding it well for young theologians. He writes as an extraordinary scholar with keen insight, intellect, and acumen. He also demonstrates his skill as a teacher, explaining advanced concepts in a way that does help the non-academic expand his theological database. The book, like all the volumes in the New Studies in Dogmatics, focuses on a singular topic, develops it exegetically, and engages with the Christian community. So, Holmes develops his doctrinal study by exegeting a series of Johnanine passages and by engaging with three apt interlocutors: Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, and Karl Barth.

The book is broken down into four sections. Section one introduces the subject and Holmes’ primary emphasis on the Ontological grounding of the economic Trinity. Part One engages Augustine on the Divinity of the Holy Spirit. Here he explores Augustine’s “Trinitarian first principle,” arguing that “The Spirit’s work expresses the Spirit’s divinity” (49). Part two engages with Thomas Aquinas on the unique personhood of the Spirit (hypostatic subsistence). Part three turns to Karl Barth’s examination of the Spirit’s work in relation to Christ and His community. Each part answers a question regarding the Holy Spirit: part one addresses the “what” of the Spirit; part two examines the “who” of the Spirit; and part three the “how” of the Spirit.

Part four shifts focus to the application of the previous conclusions. Holmes explores here some doctrines more commonly associated with the Holy Spirit: regeneration, the church, and tradition. In these final two chapters Holmes seems more keen to focus uniquely on the person of the Spirit. Much of the book up to this point has focused on the Spirit in relation to the trinity and the inter-trinitarian life of the Godhead. In fact this is my chief criticism with the book: for a volume on the Holy Spirit particularly, this volume spends less time focus on him specifically.

The book is engaging, thought-provoking, and unique in its emphasis on ontology. Yet, it does not focus on its primary subject to the degree that one expects. Were this intended to be a volume on the Trinity I could have little fault with it. Yet The New Studies in Dogmatics series does have a volume on the Trinity. So, this monograph was intended to give us a doctrinal and systematic exploration of the Holy Spirit uniquely, and yet it spends more time on the whole of the Godhead. The Holy Spirit is a very fascinating work with lots to offer the engaged theologian and graduate student. Yet, for more common topics related to the Holy Spirit (sanctification, inspiration, Spiritual gifts, etc.) other volumes will need to be consulted. This work simply doesn’t focus on its main subject with the kind of depth and breadth readers are likely to expect.

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