Book Review: Engaging with the Holy Spirit by Graham A. Cole


It has been said that the last century was the century of the Holy Spirit. This of course comes in the context of the rise of Pentecostalism and charismatic theology which puts a greater emphasis on the third member of the Triune God, than other theological traditions. Many have spent considerable amounts of time studying this area of pneumatology out over the last number of years. I spent my own time in seminary doing this as I was assigned the topic of Holy Spirit Baptism in a pneumatology seminar.

Yet, through all this study there is still incredible confusion over the Holy Spirit. Questions about about the deity and personality of the Spirit of God, His work in the past, His work in the present, and His work in the future. How are we as believers to relate to the Holy Spirit? Thankfully Graham A. Cole, in a simple but profound book has helped us to better aquaint ourselves with the Holy Spirit.

Cole is professor of biblical and systematic theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, IL. He is an anglican minister and formerly served as principal of Ridley College, University of Melbourne. He is the author of a more indepth look at the Spirit in his volume, He Who Gives Life: The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit (Crossway). His new book, Engaging with the Holy Spirit: Real Questions, Practical Answers (Crossway) helps to answer the questions that people in the pew have about the mysterious Spiritus Sanctum.

Cole answers a number of questions about the Spirit in his book. He writes,

The questions are both crucial and real. People ask them. In fact, one of them in particular, blasphemy against the Spirit, has been discussed from the earliest centuries of Christianity. And our answers ought to affect the practice of the Christian life, whether individual or corporate. As the wise say, theology without application is abortion (p. 17).

Cole then begins to ask and answer 6 key questions regarding the Holy Spirit. These are 1) What is Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, 2) How May We Resist the Holy Spirit? 3) Ought We to Pray to the Holy Spirit?, 4) How Do We Quench the Holy Spirit?, 5) How Do we Grieve the Holy Spirit?, and 6) How Does the Holy Spirit Fill Us? Looking at these questions I know I personally have sought out answers to them. Cole is right, people are asking these questions. Where are the answers? Cole has given us a great place to start.

Now, I do not agree with every one of Cole’s conclusions. For instance, in contrast to Cole, I believe blasphemy against the Spirit could only occur during the time of Jesus earthly ministry and had to do with the Jewish leaders rejection of Christ. Now, Cole’s position is strong though for a possibility of blasphemy today, but rightly notes that it can only be committed by a non-believer (p. 33). They keep the believer walking in a godly state though similar to the warning passages in Hebrews.

Resisting the Spirit has to do with resisting the Word of God which the Spirit has inspired and its faithful interpretation and application (p. 49). He concludes we may pray to the Spirit becaues God is Triune but we must be careful because there is no Scriptural warrant for it (p. 66). Quenching the Spirit today involves ignoring the preached or read Word of God that stirs our consciences or to oppose ministries that show us our failure to line up with the revealed will of God (p. 81). We grieve the Spirit when there is moral disparity between what we say as God’s people and what we do (p. 97). Finally, being filled with the Holy Spirit has to do with congregational life instead of personal sanctification. In the congregation gratitude, reverence, proper speech, song, and submission, are involved with being filled. (p. 113).

I am in sympathy with much of what Cole writes. It is sane, sober, and lacking the typical approach to understanding much of the Holy Spirit’s work. Even where I disagree, I appreciate and respect Cole’s study of the Word. He makes it clear and understandable. And of course, he does not leave it simply in the intellectual realm, but shows how the work of the Spirit is where the rubber meets the road in how Christians are to live. I would challenge all of us to read and reflect on this and on the person and work of the Spirit this year. Our lives and churches will be transformed. Cole serves as an able guide in our journey to better understand the third member of the Triune God. Every Christian should read this book.

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