REVIEW: “He Who Gives Life”, by Graham A. Cole
Graham Cole, the author of the book He Who Gives Life, is an ordained Anglican minister and professor of theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. One can see the influence of Anglicanism on Cole’s book, with the book’s strong flavor of interacting with historical and ecumenical scholarship. This essay will focus specifically on chapters’ one through four and chapter ten.
Chapter one as an introduction is what one would expect of theological prolegomena. Here he informs his reader of the importance of Scriptural revelation and other sources he will cite to stir theological reflection. Chapter two then goes on to cover about the elusiveness of the Spirit. The actual content of chapter two was more on the mystery of God than the elusiveness of the Spirit per se. Given the few Scriptural references directly of the Spirit’s elusiveness, and the theological prolegomena nature of chapter two, it is probably best for Cole to have combined the first two chapters into one. This would also reduce some of the redundancy found in both these chapters.
In Chapter three, which covers the subject of the Spirit and the Triune God, Cole found a dilemma in demonstrating the masculinity of the Holy Spirit. Concerning John 14:26, he referred to David Wallace argument that the fact that the pronoun is “He” is not for the Spirit but the Comforter (which is a masculine noun), demonstrates that this traditional proof text is far less compelling since the antecedent of “He” is not the Spirit but the “Comforter” (Cole, 68). It does not seem to be as problematic as he would like to suggest. From John 14:26, the Comforter is none other than the Holy Spirit. Hence, the Holy Spirit as Comforter is still described as being masculine. To Cole’s credit though, he does devote a section within the chapter concerning the Spirit and Gender language, and embrace the position that the Spirit should be referred to as “He”, contrary to those who want to express the Holy Spirit in feminine terms (Cole, 79-83).
I appreciated the question he raises of how one ought to understand Islam in relations to the Holy Spirit (Cole, 87-89). This is a relevant issue to address in light of the continuing growing trend of Islam. Cole presented the dilemma that any Unitarianism such as Islam would face, when there is a transcendent deity that is neither dependent nor contingent upon his creation and yet is one in person at the same time. How can such a God be said to be truly transcendent and a God of love, if love is relational? In Christianity, the Triune God can be both a transcendent God and a God of Love since the Father, Son and Holy Spirit loves each other. Here I think Cole gives Islam too much credit, since he assumes that Islam does teach that Allah is a God of love. Nowhere does the Koran state that Allah is a God of Love (Morey, Islamic Invasion, 61). Moreover, Cole’s discussion of the Trinity and the Holy Spirit in relations to Islam has a serious omission where he failed to point out that the Koran mistaken the third person of the Trinity as the Virgin Mary instead of the Holy Spirit (Al-Araby, 47 cf. Surah 5:116).
Chapter four was on the Spirit and creation. Cole does a good job here in alerting readers to the challenge of properly translating the Hebrew word for “Spirit”. This has implication when it comes to developing the doctrine of the Spirit and creation. Cole shows the difficulty with identifying the Spirit in creation exactly as the Spirit of God, and also how some of these passages are about sustaining God’s creation rather than the process of creation itself. It seems that the strongest verse of the Spirit’s continual sustaining of His creation is found in Psalm 2. Then Cole launches into a discussion of how important to have a hermeneutic of reading the Old Testament “as a Christian”. He spent more pages on this last point than he spent on actually exegeting the Old Testament text itself. Part of his argument rest on how Scripture has more than one readership in view in the divine economy, as suggested with what Jesus said in His debate with the Sadducees (Col, 107). But it does not logically follow that believing that the Scripture will have more than one readership will mean some sort of New Testament priority supercede a historical grammatical approach of Old Testament passages. Although he hints at a hermeneutic of New Testament priority under the argument that Christians must read the Old Testament as Christians, surprisingly Cole does not usher forth any New Testament text that have interpreted the specific Old Testament verses cited as being the Holy Spirit. Cole does not even satisfy his own hermeneutical criteria.
For the amount of extended footnotes Cole provide in his discussion of the problem of the identity of the Spirit in Genesis 1:2, he does not interact with the surrounding context of the Scriptural passage to reach a conclusion. Ironically, he footnotes Sinclair Ferguson’s work on the Holy Spirit, but omitted Ferguson’s argument from the context of Genesis one. Ferguson’s argument rest on his observation of Genesis 1:26-27: “Indeed, while generally unnoticed in the exposition of Genesis 1, it can be argued that recognizing the presence of the divine Spirit in Genesis 1:2 would provide the ‘missing link’ in the interpretation of the ‘Let us make…’ in Genesis 1:26-27” (Ferguson, 20-21). Ferguson goes on to say that the Spirit of God then would be the “only possible referent of this address within the structure of the account itself” (Ferguson, 21). Ferguson argument would enhance the case for the Spirit’s role in creation. Moreover, an historical grammatical observation of the immediate chapter allows one to argue for the Spirit without appealing to some sort of analogy of the faith or “reading as a Christian” which Cole suggested.
Cole charged that Evangelical Christianity has not always appreciated that believers are first ontologically creatures before being Christians (Cole, 113). One wonders how fair this charge is. As a professor in a major Evangelical Seminary in the United States, it seems quite astounding that he can make this charge in light of the boom of the Intelligent Design Movement, Young Earth Creationism, promoted by and among Evangelicals. As a matter of fact, of all the streams of Christianity that Cole has interacted with in his book, it would seem that it is Evangelical Christianity which has properly appreciated the importance of man being creatures. Many of the leaders of Creationism and supporters of Creationism are Evangelicals, and this carries obvious implications that the general Evangelical landscape does realize that Christians are creatures logically prior to being Christians. At the amount of resources devoted to creation apologetics, Evangelicals realize the importance that Christians and non-Christians are ontologically creatures, responsible to God, especially since this must be assume logically prior to accepting the Gospel!
In the final chapter of the book, Cole addresses the topic of the Holy Spirit and knowing God. The general subject of religious epistemology, and specifically of Christian knowledge are personal interest of mine. He makes a careful distinction between two kinds of witnesses that the Spirit gives: the witness of the Spirit concerning a believer’s assurance, and also the witness of the Spirit of the Scriptural Word. Cole gives a concise description of Calvin’s exposition concerning the Spirit’s testimony of the truthfulness of Scripture. Not taking the doctrine of the Spirit’s internal witness of the Scripture for granted, Cole observes how Calvin proposed only two verses to substantiate this doctrine (Cole, 273). The two verses, Isaiah 59:21 and 2 Corinthians 1:22, while it does talk about the Spirit of God, do not necessarily justify the Spirit offering an internal testimony of Scripture. Cole also listed the verses that R.C Sproul provides which is suppose to allude to the Spirit’s work but these verses also do not substantiate the Spirit’s internal witness to the Word (Cole, 273). While Cole has rightfully caution readers of the difficult exegetical basis for Calvin’s doctrine of the Spirit’s internal testimony of the Word of God, he should have focused on other topic as well in this chapter which he titled “The Spirit and Knowing God”. Crucial in the Spirit’s ministry to the believer for them to know God, is the Spirit as a teacher. Unlike the topic of the Spirit’s internal witness, the Holy Spirit role as Teacher is taught explicitly, particularly in John 14:26. He could have elaborated on the subject of the Spirit as a Teacher. A lot of times in a Christian walk, what the Christian discover is not that the person needs to learn new things about God in order to know God so much as it is that they need to be reminded of the truths they already know. Fortunately for the Christian, John 14:26 also informs the believer that the Spirit has a role in reminding the believers of the truth concerning Him.
Throughout all the chapters, I found myself asking, “Is it wise for Cole to quote some of the people he did?” He quotes Catholics, Open Theists and Secularists. Readers need to be aware that any in the content of every book, there was an editorial choice made by the author of what to include and what to leave out. For example, in chapter three, Cole sees such interaction of these individuals and their ideas “may serve as heuristic devices that aid our reading of Scripture”, with the caveat “insofar as they illuminate them and are consistent with them” (Cole, 72-73). He then writes, “Let us explore four such ideas” (Cole, 73), among them a gentleman named Richard of Saint Victor. Research on Richard of Saint Victor reveals that he was a Middle Age Christian Mystic. Would the benefit of exploring the ideas of a Christian mystic outweigh the danger of introducing such an individual as someone whom Cole finds as a “heuristic devices that aid our reading of Scripture”? Certainly one must be charitable, and there are times when it is necessary to interact with a heretic’s (or other nonbeliever’s) positive contribution towards scholarship yet with discernment because of their unorthodox theology. What could be so significant that Richard of Saint Victor contribute towards the development of Pneumatology that can aid our reading of Scripture? Richard of Saint Victor argued that love needs a third person in the Trinity (Cole, 75-76). Cole admit that Richard of Saint Victor’s argument for why the Trinity must exist was too ambitious (Cole, 76). Reading Richard of Saint Victor’s argument as presented in Book Three of the Trinity, I found that his argument was logically invalid and far too speculative. It did not seem wise for Cole to pass off Richard of Saint Victor as one who can aid our reading of Scripture nor as one who is consistent with Scripture when the guy was really neither, only for Cole to conclude that the guy’s argument was too ambitious thereby failing to prove his ideas, which begs the question of why Cole would even introduce Richard of Saint Victor in the first place.
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Erikson, Millard. Christian Theology.. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1998.
Ferguson, Sinclair. The Holy Spirit. Downer Grove, Illinois: Intervarsity Press, 1996.
Kuyper, Abraham. The Work of The Holy Spirit. Translated by Henri De Vries. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1956.
Morey, Robert A. The Islamic Invasion. Las Vegas, Nevada: Christian Scholar Press, 1992.
Morey, Robert A. The Trinity: Evidence and Issues. Iowa Falls, Iowa: Word Bible Publishers, 1996.
Richard of St. Victor. Richard of St. Victor. Translated by Grover a. Zinn. New York: Paulist Press, 1979.
Swinburne, Richard. The Christian God. Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press, 1994.
Snider, Andrew. “He Who Gives Life: The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit” The Master’s Seminary Journal 19 no. 1 (Spring 2008): 109-111.