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Good Survey of Protestant Thought on the Holy Spirit

Edmund Rybarczyk, professor of Historic and Systematics at Vanguard University in California has written a well researched, concise but informative work on Protestant understandings of the Holy Spirit. Being an ordained Assemblies of God minister, Rybarczyk has a good handle on the various Pentecostal views of the Spirit but goes into good detail here in surveying modern Protestant views on the Spirit. Rybarczyk believes upfront that a general survey without attention to the details of a theologian's ideas about the Spirit is damaging. He says in the introduction, "A theologian myself, I believe specificity and nuance of thought is of great importance. If "the devil is in the details," so also are the beauty, truth, and meaning of an idea or position" (ix). The idea of digging into the details of person's theology is so important because general surveys time and time again fail at locating an author's point of view in relation to his historical situation and his overall theological output. Rybarczyk is to be commended for his careful attention to the details of these various theologians with respect to their views of Holy Spirit, their views of the Spirit in relationship to their theological method, and their historical background that sheds meaning of their whole work.

I also appreciate the vast scope of different theologians represented in this work. From Luther and Wesley and Kuyper, to Pannenberg, Moltmann and Welker, Rybarczyk is careful not to allow the prominent voices of Protestantism to speak about the Holy Spirit. I only have one criticism regarding his selection of theologians. Rybarczyk is right to understand Luther's impact upon subsequent Protestant thought by saying, "Luther's Word-Spirit tandem has been critical for subsequent Protestant theology" (15). Luther has greatly influenced Protestants for his doctrine of justification by faith and his idea that the Word/word is always accompanied by the work of the Spirit. However, I also think that Calvin has much in the way to say about the Holy Spirit. Regarding the illumination of the Spirit, regarding prayer, regarding the application of the benefits of redemption to mankind Calvin is a sure place for a good discussion of the Spirit. I realize that choices need to be made but I was also hoping to give the theologian of the Holy Spirit his place as well.

In terms of the layout of the book, Rybarczyk has done an excellent job in presenting the material succintly and informatively. His discussion of the benefits of prevenient grace in the thought of Wesley are done very well (32-33). Why? First, Rybarczyk uses logical deduction to understand how Wesley can at the same time hold to a doctrine of total depravity in tandem with a concept of free will. Yet, Ryzbarczyk is careful to point out that this aspect of his thought is in tension. That God has given broken sinners a conscience and mind to understand good and evil is one thing that both some Reformed and Wesleyan can agree. Yet, Rybarczyk is right to maintain that is only by the initial act of God's grace first that humans then act through the work of prevenient grace to cooperate with God and His Spirit. I really thought Rybarczyk's understanding of Kuyper's views of the Holy Spirit were spot on. Coming from a Reformed background, graduating at a Reformed seminary I appreciate those in different circles understanding Reformed thinkers in understandable and fair ways. Rybarczyk rightly understands the goal of Kuyper's views pertaining to sanctification. "Sanctification makes believers' natures holy...the elect experience existential transformation via sanctification; one's whole self is involved" (51). The Holy Spirit in the thought of Kuyper is fully guided by the soveriegn work of God, upon which guides the whole of the work of salvation for Kuyper.

Overall, I thought that this book was a good overview of some major Protestant thinkers on their views of the Holy Spirit. A couple of things that I thought were troubling in my reading. In the section of Wolfhart Panneberg, Rybarczyk indicates that "His understanding of Christian truth as being accesible to people apart from the Spirit's illumination, his belief that all truth is accesible through reason, and his belief that history itself is the medium of God's presence and revelation in history all bear out his rationalistic bent" (104). If these things are true of Pannenberg, where is the unique witness of Jesus Christ being the savior of all men who believe. Where is the witness that the Holy Spirit applies the work of salvation to the hearts of men and women to believe. Lastly, how do we account for the nature of man affected by the fall if we believe that all truth is can be rationally understood. Lastly, in undertanding Michael Welker's view of the Apostle's Creed, I was shocked to note how flippantly he could re-translate the Creed. Understanding the 'resurrection of the body' as "something for this life that regards shinking forth God's presence without impediment," is erroneous to the historic claim that the Apostles Creed means. I understand that the he is focusing on the present work of God in the midst of his people, but this is a type of historical and theological amnesia going on.

This book is a great segway into understanding various Protestant authors views of the Holy Spirit from Luther to Welker. What you gain is an appreciation of these men's thoughts and their desire to provide the church with a strong theology of the Spirit. I think this book would be useful for students of college, seminary, and anyone interested in the Holy Spirit.

Much thanks to Paraclete Press for the review copy of this book.


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