A Review of “The Holy Spirit” by Sinclair Ferguson

There has been plenty written on the so-called “shy member of the Trinity.” If Sinclair Ferguson is neither the first nor the last to write about Him, his book might, nonetheless, be one of the best. While other works on the Holy Spirit focus on specific aspects of his work (spiritual gifts, inspiration, sanctification, etc.) or on the nature of the Holy Spirit within the Trinity, Ferguson presents a thorough examination of the person and work of the Spirit across the canon of Scripture. He does this, however, within a very accessible fashion. It’s comprehensiveness and comprehensibility make The Holy Spirit a unique and valuable tool for the study of this doctrine.

As part of the Contours of Christian Theology series, published by IVP, this volume seeks to present the doctrine of the Holy Spirit in an orthodox and yet “fresh and compelling way” (9). The intent of the series is to “compliment the traditional textbooks but …not copy them.” And to make “technical vocabulary accessible to the non-specialist reader,” avoiding “the extremes of academic style.” To that end The Holy Spirit is written as a rich theological study that non-academics will greatly benefit from. Sinclair Ferguson shows his skill as a writer, theologian, and pastor as he navigates this subject and succeeds quite well at his primary task. The book is meaty and yet enjoyable as a read. It does not feel like a textbook, though it surely is.

The books eleven chapters cover the major elements of an orthodox theology of the third person of the trinity. So, chapter one surveys the shadow of the Spirit’s presence and activity in the Old Testament, while chapter two directs our attention to the Spirit’s role in the life and ministry of the Christ. Readers get a good grounding on the interrelatedness of the members of the Trinity as the read across the book, this chapter demonstrating that point well. Chapters three and four discuss the Spirit’s role in the rest of the New Testament, particularly the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost. Chapter four examines particularly the question of Pentecost as a paradigm for the contemporary church, concluding that the “event is viewed as epochal, programmatic rather than paradigmatic” (81). Chapter five continues the focus of the Spirit’s work in the New Testament by considering the Spirit’s role in the application of redemption. Chapter 6 highlights the Spirit’s role in the work of a creation, an often overlooked ministry of the Spirit; while chapters seven and eight focus on the sanctification and communion. Chapters nine and ten turn toward the subject of the Spirit within the church, exploring the dynamic interplay between the Holy Spirit and the sacraments and the spiritual gifts respectively. Ferguson is a classic Reformed scholar and so his conclusions in the latter chapter will not appeal to those of a more Charismatic persuasion, but they are not without benefit to even them. Finally, chapter eleven wraps up the book with a look ahead to the eschatological fulfillment and the role of the Spirit in the consummation of all things.

Readers will appreciate the diverse coverage of this work. Ferguson highlights the major issues comprehensively, while not exhaustively. Surely because of the nature of an accessible work like this, some subjects are left undefended, more asserted than proven. Yet, overall the work excels in exegetical study, irenic dialogue, and solid apologetics. Ferguson “traces the revelation of the Spirit’s identity and work in a biblico-theological and redemptive-historical manner” (12), and does so well. Of all the current works I have read on the Holy Spirit I found Ferguson’s the most enjoyable, accessible, comprehensive, and compelling. I highly recommend this theological study to both laymen and scholars.  It is the ideal combination of theological scholarship and readable study.

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