Anthony C. Thiselton is professor emeritus of Christian theology at the University of Nottingham, England, and author of the new book The Holy Spirit — In Biblical Preaching, through the Centuries, and Today.
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I began this book with the intention of writing only on the biblical teaching about the Holy Spirit. The subject has long been a concern of mine. Three factors provided groundwork for this subject. First, I began my graduate dissertation in 1961 on the Holy Spirit, followed by sustained thought and reading. Second, my second dissertation and subsequent publications on hermeneutics proved to be of first importance for this subject. Third, my commentaries and articles on 1 Corinthians invited a close study of gifts of the Spirit.
Today’s Church has added a new dimension and urgency to this subject. The explosion of global Pentecostalism and the rapid increase of the Renewal Movement in “mainline” churches invite a deeper and more careful examination of the Holy Spirit in Christian thought and experience. I hoped to write a book which would invite sympathetic dialogue with Pentecostals (with some probing questions also) and those in the Renewal Movement (also with probing questions).
I soon realized however, that a biblical study alone would not be taken with full seriousness if I did not also make a thorough study of historical interpretations and historical criticisms of Pentecostalism and the Renewal Movement. I also saw the need for adding a substantial section on “the Holy Spirit today.”
The book has thus ended up with three sets of eight chapters focused respectively on biblical, historical, and contemporary material. But curiously Part Three has become the biggest part, perhaps because so much is going on today. I spent a long period reading letters and articles on the “Pentecostal Theology Worldwide” forum and was impressed by its range of views. There may have been very occasional complacency, but much more often there was serious self-criticism among Pentecostals themselves.
The Holy Spirit
A second bonus emerged from making this study a three-part volume. The last careful exegetical and systematic study was H. B. Swete, The Holy Spirit in the New Testament in 1910, followed by his book The Holy Spirit in the Ancient Church in 1912. To be sure, James Dunn published Baptism in the Holy Spirit in 1970 and Jesus and the Spirit in 1975, and I have been delighted that Pentecostals have taken both volumes seriously and responded to them. There have been many other smaller studies, of which perhaps the most significant are Jürgen Moltmann’s The Spirit of Life (1992) and, from the Catholic side, Yves Congar’s I Believe in the Holy Spirit (3 volumes, 1983), which both offer inspiring major studies. Both are more than sympathetic with Renewal and Pentecostal standpoints. Yet there was, I found, still room for work which combined careful biblical exegesis with historical and systematic theology, and which also showed a first-hand acquaintance through literature and conversations with Pentecostals.
Among Pentecostal writers, Gordon Fee, Frank Macchia, Amos Yong, and Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen, among others, seemed to show genuine openness to, and familiarity with, “mainstream” scholarly and ecumenical writers. My doctoral graduate, Sarah Ahn in Korea, is also among several other more “open” Pentecostal pioneers. The perspectives of contemporary scholars from within and beyond Pentecostalism have provided me with a wealth of material for scholarly reflection on the Holy Spirit.
Yet many lessons can be learned from historical debates as well. Is sanctification an event or a process? Is “Baptism in the Spirit” the right word for an undoubtedly genuine experience subsequent to becoming a Christian? John Owen, Jonathan Edwards, and John Wesley, among many others, proved to be fascinating and to provide many practical lessons. So did a number of the Church Fathers and medieval mystics.
It would be a mistake, therefore, to imagine that dialogue with Pentecostals was my sole overriding concern in composing this volume. The Holy Spirit was conceived as a thorough study that is (nearly) equal parts biblical, historical, and contemporary. It is supported both by careful exegesis and by historical research. It contains extensive discussions of such issues as the Personhood of the Holy Spirit, the work of the Holy Spirit in Resurrection, and the Holy Spirit and the Holy Trinity.
I pray that this book will stimulate much new thinking and discussion. I have purposely added no footnotes to the last chapter, chapter 24. It seeks to summarize my own concerns, while presupposing many of the earlier detailed arguments. Whatever the reader’s conclusion, I pray that this may open up some neglected areas of teaching, thought, and experience, and bring God’s blessing.
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