Review of Michael Horton’s “Rediscovering the Holy Spirit.”

With high levels of interest in the Holy Spirit, Michael Horton’s Rediscovering the Holy Spirit seeks to ground and re-integrate Christian pneumatology into historic Trinitarianism. horton HSIn the first chapter Horton states this purpose: “One of my central concerns in these chapters is to explore the Spirit’s distinctive role in every external work of the Godhead. The Spirit is neither ‘shy’ nor a freelance operator; his work is not merely supplemental to the creating and redeeming work of the Father in the Son but is integral to the divine drama from beginning to end. In short, I want to widen our vision of the Spirit’s work.”(16) Throughout his book, Horton pursues this purpose by examining the Spirit’s unity with the Father and Son alongside the Spirit’s distinctive role in all of the Triune God’s various works. While books about the Holy Spirit have multiplied recently, contemporary discussions have tended to depersonalize, compartmentalize, and unmoor the Spirit from the Trinity. For this reason, Horton’s contribution is timely and worth reading.

As a professor of systematic theology at Westminster Seminary in California, Horton unsurprisingly writes from a reformed perspective and with a systematic approach. Although Horton examines the Spirit in the Hebrew scriptures and in redemptive history, his approach is more systematic than biblical theological. As expected from a reformed theologian, there are plentiful references to John Calvin and to Sinclair Ferguson’s The Holy Spirit (the go-to book on contemporary reformed pneumatology), but there is also interaction with theologians outside the reformed tradition. While much of this interaction critiques thoughts and practices that Horton feels detracts from a fully Trinitarian pneumatology, the critiques are fair and thought provoking. Indeed one of the strengths of Rediscovering the Holy Spirit is Horton’s adept way of pointing out problematic thinking in contemporary conversations about the Holy Spirit. One area that Horton especially addresses is the tendency to connect the Holy Spirit only with the “extraordinary, spontaneous, and immediate” as well as the “internal” experiences of Christian faith and practice. Horton rightly draws attention to the biblical and theological importance of the Spirit’s work through the “ordinary means of grace” in the world and in the church (see esp. Ch.10).

The beginning chapters contribute the most to current discussions on the Holy Spirit. These chapters are devoted to the role of the Spirit in some of the works more closely associated with the Father and/or the Son. From creation to redemption to the final judgment, Horton points out the distinct role the Spirit plays in every work of the Godhead. In the process, this needful correction paints a fuller and more biblically faithful picture of the Holy Spirit and sheds light on other areas of theology such as ecclesiology and eschatology.

While the final chapters are more “practical” in that they address such contentious issues as the miraculous sign gifts and “baptism in the Spirit,” they don’t offer much in terms of new arguments. These chapters’ value comes from Horton applying the Spirit’s broader range of roles (established in earlier chapters) to skewed views of the Spirit in our day. The Spirit is not simply an internal voice that causes spontaneous and extraordinary phenomena, nor does the Spirit have his own “second baptism” as if he didn’t participate in a person’s baptism upon faith in Christ. The Spirit participates in, and brings to completion, Christ’s work of redemption in the world and works through many “ordinary” means in the life of the church. This important insight does not require a cessationist stance, but Horton follows the reformed tradition in arguing for a cessationist view (with minor qualifications). He puts forward the well-worn arguments that the events surrounding Pentecost and the early apostolic church are not normative for the church today. Although leaving open the possibility of miraculous signs and prophecy, Horton argues that these gifts have practically ceased since the offices of prophet and apostle ended with the apostolic generation. Although presented clearly, these arguments follow standard reformed formulations and don’t break new ground or dialogue with some of the better objections of charismatic Christians.

Despite some disagreements and other objections (like an over-emphasis on the advocate role of the Johannine paraclete in chapter 5), I recommend Rediscovering the Holy Spirit to all those who want to rediscover a Trinitarian understanding of the Holy Spirit. In addition to scholarly content that grounds pneumatology in Trinitarian theology, Michael Horton is a good writer who knows how to turn a phrase. For example, when Horton discusses the unified nature of the works among the distinct persons in the Trinity, he eloquently states, “It is not different works but different roles in every work that the divine persons perform. . . . We will have a very narrow vision of the Spirit’s person and work if we identify him only with specific works (like regeneration and spiritual gifts) instead of recognizing the specific way he works in every divine operation.” (emphasis original, 38-39). For well-said insights such as this, Rediscovering the Holy Spirit is worth reading.

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