Book Review: The Holy Spirit (Contours of Christian Theology) by Sinclair B. Ferguson
Sinclair Ferguson's biblical-theological treatment on the Holy Spirit is a rich and sumptuous theological feast for any serious-minded believer who wants to know more about the so-called "shy member of the Trinity." In eleven meaty chapters, Ferguson gives a comprehensive, if not exhaustive, biblical overview of the person and work of the Holy Spirit, all along the way drawing on historical theology and charitably interacting with perspectives different from his own.
Chapter one, "The Spirit and His Story" surveys the Old Testament's more shadowy teaching on the Holy Spirit with a careful biblical-theological approach. "The Spirit of Christ" (chapter two) is an exceptionally rich chapter on the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the life of Jesus. Christ is seen as the quintessential "Man of the Spirit." Because his entire life was lived in the Spirit's power (Ferguson starts with his conception and moves through the various aspects of Jesus' life all the way to exaltation), Jesus is now the "Lord of the Spirit" (2 Cor. 3:18) - the One who sends the Spirit to his church to reproduce the "human holiness" of which he (Jesus) is the pattern.
This moves into the next two chapters, which focus on "The Gift of the Spirit" and "Pentecost Today?", exploring the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost and its significance in redemptive history and for believers today. "The Spirit of Order" (chapter five) discusses the ordo salutis (order of salvation) and how the Spirit applies the redemptive work of Christ to the individual believer. This is an excellent chapter which focuses on union with Christ as the central motif for understanding how the Spirit applies salvation in our lives. Throughout both this chapter and the entire book, Ferguson writes with a solid understanding of the inaugurated eschatology of the New Testament, allowing the "already/not yet" tension to inform his treatment of the various aspects of the ordo salutis (i.e. justification, regeneration, adoption, sanctification, glorification).
"Spiritus Recreator" (chapter six) discusses the Spirit's role in the new creation, while the next chapter, "The Spirit of Holiness," explores his role in sanctification. These were two of the most helpful chapters in the book for me personally. Ferguson maintains the Christ-centeredness with which he began the book as he shows how the Spirit reproduces the image of Christ in believers through his definitive act and progressive work of sanctification. Also very edifying is chapter eight, "The Communion of the Spirit," which deals with the personal ministry of the Spirit in the life of the believer as seal, firstfruits, and earnest/guarantee.
Chapters nine and ten talk about "The Spirit and the Body" and "The Gifts of the Spirit," the former discussing the role of the sacraments under the Spirit in the life of the church and the latter addressing the issue of spiritual gifts - with Ferguson taking a firm, though gentle, cessationist position. His critiques of Wayne Grudem deserve careful reflection from all who hold a continuationist perspective. The final chapter, "The Cosmic Spirit" discusses the Spirit's work in what we might call common grace and points us forward to the eschatological fulfillment of the Spirit's work in the world.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and learned much from it. Ferguson's articulation of a Reformed view of the Holy Spirit is intelligent and persuasive. Theologians, biblical scholars, pastors, and serious layreaders would all benefit from this book.