He Who Gives Life: The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit

By Graham A. Cole
Wheaton, IL : Crossway (2007). 310 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. Andrew Snider
19.1 (Spring 2008) : 109-111

Professor Cole’s book is the fourth volume in the Foundations of Evangelical Theology series and, all things considered, it is that series’ fourth quality contribution to evangelical theological literature.

The book is laid out in four parts. After introductory comments, the study begins with “Part I: The Mystery of the Spirit.” Parts II and III contain the OT and NT perspectives on the Holy Spirit, respectively. Part IV is simply Cole’s four-page conclusion. A basic but helpful glossary follows, along with a Scripture index and general index.

In his introductory comments the author begins with a typically evangelical commitment to Scripture as the ultimate authority for judging the truth of doctrinal formulations, while listening humbly also to the work of the Spirit in the Christian tradition. For the reader expecting an immediate plunge into the biblical material on the Spirit, Part I seems like a continuation of the introduction, albeit with a focus that narrows from theological method in general to a standard survey of certain issues in theology proper. These include a discussion of the elusiveness of the Spirit (i.e., the incomprehensibility of God) and the Trinity.

The extensive introductory material is one of the few but important weaknesses of the book—this reviewer feels that Cole is traversing territory covered thoroughly in Feinberg’s (No One Like Him) or Clark’s (To Know and Love God) contributions to this same series. While much of Part I is good—even excellent—it does not contribute much to Cole’s study of pneumatology.

Part II of the book focuses on the Spirit’s ministry in the OT, beginning with the Spirit’s relationship to creation. The author engages in an exegetically and theologically sensitive discussion of Gen 1:2 that avoids facile conclusions but not difficult questions. This reviewer also appreciated the distinctly evangelical tone to the discussion, as Cole consulted with such stalwarts as Feinberg, Ferguson, Gromacki, and Packer on this topic.

The Spirit’s ministry to Israel and OT saints in general comprises the remaining chapters of Part II. Cole considers the Spirit’s ministries of care, governance, communication, and presence with the nation Israel under the OT economy. Of special emphasis, of course, is the O T theme of the hop e of Israel in which the Spirit plays an important part. This is explored in some detail. The author, who is not of a dispensationalist bent, nevertheless expresses his admiration for the dispensationalist’s commitment to taking Israel’s role in the redemptive plan of God seriously (138 n.34). Finally, in an excursus on regeneration in the OT, the author takes a traditional position that the Spirit regenerated but did not indwell OT believers.

The largest division of the book, unsurprisingly, is Part III, in which the Spirit’s NT ministries are addressed. The author first explores the relationship of Christ and the Spirit. His unique approach is to consider the pneumatological relationship of each of the major “Christological moments”: incarnation, baptism, temptation, transfiguration, mighty works, death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ. In all but two of these (the transfiguration and ascension), Cole finds some compelling pneumatological significance.

Though the Spirit was the empowering force in Christ’s incarnate ministry, Cole goes on to emphasize that the Spirit continues the ministry of Jesus after the ascension. At this point in the book, the author’s exposition of the NT ministries of the Spirit begins in earnest. Choosing to leave Jesus’ name for the Spirit untranslated, Cole focuses on the ministerial functions of the Paraclete, which include comfort, advocacy, and teaching, among others to be examined later in the book. Above all in this chapter, Cole seeks to preserve the vital connection between Christology and pneumatology against the recent ecumenical and interfaith trends which seek to separate these two in order to find a way of salvation through other religions by means of the Holy Spirit.

The last two chapters deal with the Spirit’s relation to the church and the NT believer. Beginning with Pentecost, Cole works his way through the NT literature to explain the benefits of the Spirit which come to those who are “in Christ.” A particularly compelling strength of this book is seen in these two chapters, as the author emphasizes rightly the corporate ministries of the Holy Spirit. All those who are “in Christ” and members of his body are united by partaking of the one Spirit—so the baptism, indwelling, sealing, filling, and gifts of the Spirit are intended to benefit the body as a whole, not just the individual members. This is an emphasis that is sometimes lacking in conservative evangelical thought and practice.

The author’s discussion of spiritual gifts and the issue of cessationism/ continuationism is somewhat disappointing. His position, which he calls “Open but Discerning,” is not adequately defended against the cessationist views—he simply does not go into the arguments for either side in adequate detail. It is true that many books have been written on this issue alone, but it seems appropriate to expect a book of this scope on pneumatology to present a more thorough treatment of various views on this issue.

Finally, and unfortunately, the book ends with a rather perplexing discussion of the illumination and internal testimony of the Spirit. In the end, the reader is left wondering just what Cole understands these ministries to entail. The various positions on illumination and internal testimony are presented, but the argument Cole constructs seems to be left without a conclusion.

These closing criticisms aside, this book is indeed a welcome contribution to the discussion of the doctrines of the Holy Spirit. On the whole, Cole has provided an exegetically minded, theologically nuanced, historically sensitive exposition of the key areas of biblical pneumatology. Although drawing on a broad base of research that ranges from Ryrie to Barth to Pinnock to John Paul II, Cole manages to produce a distinctly evangelical and biblical pneumatology. Extensive footnoting provides a clear path into a wide array of sources, which makes the book of great value to theological students, pastors, and educated laity.