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The Holy Spirit (Contours of Christian Theology) Paperback – 16 Aug 1996

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Product details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: IVP (16 Aug. 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 085111895X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0851118956
  • Product Dimensions: 15.4 x 22.9 x 2.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 237,046 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

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A wide-ranging biblical theology of the Holy Spirit's
ministry, which always keeps in view the live issues of contemporary

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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By B. J. Williamson on 21 Oct. 2001
Format: Paperback
Wherever you stand on the spiritual gift debate this certainly a valuable contribution. Particularly as the first eight chapter are simply looking at who the Holy spirit is and what his role is. Where it does deal with spiritual gifts it does it sensitively and biblicallly both defending the cessationist position and refuting conter arguments. Any one who has not properly considered this position must read this book. But the main delight of this is how it reveals through scripture the role of the third person of the trinity and the applications of that to the way we view God.
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2 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Rev. I. B. Cook on 17 Aug. 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
At last a book about the Holy Spirit that makes sense both Biblically and Doctrinally.
Good balance and presentation. A must read. Should be read by all so called Charismatics.
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35 of 36 people found the following review helpful
Outstanding and Necessary 8 Dec. 2003
By J. F Foster - Published on
Format: Paperback
This book by Ferguson is now 7 years old, but it remains an essential treatment of the Holy Spirit from a Reformed perspective. As Ferguson aptly notes early on, fascination with the work of the Holy Spirit has greatly increased in the last 100 years in Christian circles, but knowledge and understanding of the Spirit Himself remains more elusive than ever it seems. This book is a wonderful remedy to this starvation.
Ferguson takes a very mild mannered tone throughout his presentation. Even the section of the book where he registers his sharpest theological disagreement (in this case, with Grudem), he is charitable and properly recognizes the importance of theology's role to increase understanding and knowledge, but also the depth of Christian community.
As is to be expected from a book written by a professor from Westminster Seminary, the reader can expect to get a healthy dosage of Vos/Ridderbos Biblical theology in here. Ferguson adopts the favored Westminster view that the New Testament needs to be seen within the context of redemptive history, and particularly eschatology. As a result, Ferguson's treatment of the presence and work of the Holy Spirit is seen within an eschatological context that stresses His role in the 'already/not yet' period of the coming of the Kingdom. What this means is that a reader who picks up this book who is enamored more with a systematic theological approach will find a different approach undertaken here. Particularly in Ferguson's treatment of the ordo salutis, the scholastic approach is mostly spurned in favor of a Biblical Theological approach that stresses the believer's unity in Christ within redemptive history as the predominate motif of the Spirit's work.
Ferguson's early detail on the Person of the Holy Spirit is highly informative and a needed premise to analyzing the work of the Holy Spirit. In this respect, Ferguson does retain elements of a more traditional systematic theological approach, but also employs a literary approach as well which is the latest thing in theological formulation. In addition, Ferguson's section on sanctification is outstanding and should aid believers in the perennial dilemma of what to make of the old self/new self imagery in the Bible, as well as the inner personal struggle we experience that frustrates and even perplexes us at times. Lastly, Ferguson's section on the Spirit's ministry gifts is outstanding. He comes to this discussion from a cessationist perspective, but is very charitable in his critique and seeks not to minimize or dismiss personal experience, but to incorporate such experience within what he believes is a Biblical framework.
Overall, this book is definitely a worthy successor to Kuyper's work a century ago, and is a book that is much needed in Reformed circles to regain the appreciation and dependence we should be feeling toward the Holy Spirit in all phases of our living. Highly recommended.
20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
A Rich and Sumptuous Theological Feast 10 May 2008
By Brian G Hedges - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
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.
23 of 27 people found the following review helpful
Unduly Recondite - very difficult to follow that is... 8 Feb. 2011
By RGB_R - Published on
Format: Paperback
I found this book to be very difficult to follow. Perhaps this is because it is as the Preface states, the book was written for students in academia. I would suggest that for those who are newbies to theology or this issue, that they might consider starting with say ... another book (e.g. see Graham Cole) and then move on to this book later.

Ok. That said... some comments about what you can find discussed in the book.

The book starts off with two prefaces. One by Gerald Bray and another by Ferguson itself. Then what follows are 11 chapters.

In chapter 1, we find mostly a discussion of Pneumatology (doctrine of the Holy Spirit(HSP)) as found in the the Old Testament(OT). A discussion of some Greek and Hebrew terms such as ruach and pneuma is given. Ferguson suggests interestingly enough that of the various possible meanings that can be suggested for the terms, the most dominant one is Scripture is that of power. The OT emphasis is "overwhelming energy."

Chapter 2 is concerned with tracing the ministry of the HSP in the life of Jesus Christ. One question that Ferguson raises and answers is: Why was there any need for a coming of the HSP at Jesus' baptism if Jesus was born full of the Spirit? Good question. Read it to find out what Ferguson says.

Chapter 3 concerns the pouring out of the Spirit on Pentecost. Ferguson also points out that there are four aspects to the HSP's ministry that help us to understand who He is and what He does. Also included in this chapter, is a discussion of Filioque.

Chapter 4 has to do with the continuities and discontinuities associated with Pentecost. Can Pentecost or Pentecost-like events be repeated today? Ferguson's answer is no. There is only one unrepeatable Pentecost, yet there are aspects to Pentecost that one may find repeated today.

In Chapter 5 we find a discussion of the post-Pentecost activity of the Spirit. Justification, the ordo salutis and a very important topic - union with Christ - are taken up. An important Pneumatological question is taken up, viz. "How did the Spirit apply the blessings of Christ to the individual?"

Chapter 6 discusses the controversial issue of faith and regeneration. What is interesting is that according to Ferguson, faith and repentance in fact are the phenomenological (experience related) side of the Spirit's work in regeneration.

Chapter 7 has to do with the topic of sanctification or Christlikeness which is the outworking of our union with Christ. Sanctification is a big issue, and the discussion here is quite involved.

Chapter 8 discusses the fellowship that we have with the Spirit. Eschatologically speaking, it has an already-but-not-yet aspect to it.

Chapter 9 takes up a big and controversial issue: The Baptism of the HSP. Ferguson also discusses baptism, proper. Here he does so in relation to God's covenants, such as the Abrahamic and Noahic. Surprisingly Ferguson does not get into Covenant Theology here. (My assumption is that this is his background.)

Chapter 10 is also about another big and controversial issue: The Gifts of the Holy Spirit. Here Ferguson interacts with Grudem's two levels of prophecy. Healing, tongues and prophecy are discussed. Ferguson will come out as a Cessationist of course. (I used to be one for several years myself, btw.)

Chapter 11 begins by raising the question of the relationship between the created order and the redeemed order. The notion of the cosmic Spirit akin to the notion of the Cosmic Christ is discussed. In recent times, Pneumatology has been deployed in support of Universalism. Ferguson points out what is wrong with this. The very interesting issue of the Creation and its renewal by the HSP is then taken up.

Ok. That said... some thoughts: pluses and minuses.

1. If you can swallow this book, then you have learned a lot! It is a veritable learning experience.

2. The book is solidly exegetical and redemptive-historical(tracing a theme through the Bible from OT to the NT). You are not going to be sitting around scratching your head, wondering how Ferguson arrived at his points.

3. The book is deep and it will expose you to issues that you may not have been exposed to before and provoke you to thought in other areas of theology.


1. It would be good to see more interaction with Pentecostal writers besides Grudem. There are folks within the Continuationist and the Open-Yet-Cautious camp who do not buy what Grudem has to say. In chapter 10, what is interesting is the amount of space given to discussing Continuationism and Cessationism specifically. The section subtitled "A Case for Continuation?" is roughly 2 pages in length, whereas the corresponding section, "A Case for Cessationism?" is 14 pages in length.

2. In my mind, there are certain weaknesses. For example, I do not buy the 3-fold division of the Mosaic Law. (I come from the stand point of New Covenant Theology, btw.) I was not convinced by his arguments against Continuationism. (I am not saying that Cessationism is wrong, btw. I have a lot of reading to do. Given the little I know, that is the position that I have come to currently.)

3. Language: I found his style and prose difficult to get my head around.

~ Sometimes it was the spray of Latin found here and there. What is a floruit btw?

~ Sometimes it was getting used to thinking of things in certain ways, like the hypostatization of Spirit. What does that mean? Nobody ever hears of that.

~ Other times it was just ... I don't know clunky, difficult language.

For example, in Chapter 6, when Ferguson adumbrates on union with Christ, he says that it is multi-dimensional and ... bilateral in nature having faith as its other polarity. Polarity? Quoi? Here and there his language is like that. You have to re-read a few times before you get what he is saying.

Ok... Bye.
17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
Excellent synthesis of biblical and sytematic theology. 24 Mar. 2000
By Paul - Published on
Format: Paperback
Ferguson provides a refreshing study of the person and work of the Holy Spirit. His approach is neither topical nor controversial, but rather a biblical-theological development of the Spirit as He is revealed in Scripture. Unlike so many speculative studies of the Holy Spirit, this book evidences a balanced exegetical approach. Highly recommended.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Who is the Holy Spirit 5 Dec. 2009
By Daniel Albright - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Who is the Holy Spirit? What is his role in the Christian's life right now? These are some of the questions being asked by normal Christians today. It seems, if one takes a general glance at the theology of conservative churches, that the doctrine of Pneumatology is, if even thought about, rarely understood. Factors for this ignorance can be theorized all the way from abuse over the accentuation of the Holy Spirit (thus making people error on the dismissal of the doctrine) to the general ignorance of doctrine.

Sinclair Ferguson confronts both in, "The Holy Spirit" and takes an in-depth look into what the Bible has to say about the doctrine. He comes to the work in a biblico-theological and redemptive-historical analysis of the doctrine. Thus, while historical views of the doctrine are not out rightly discussed, historical teachings do influence the author's views. And the views in the book look at the Spirit in three main frameworks: His person, His role in the church, and his role in salvation.

Looking back into the Old Testament the Spirit was active but not fully revealed. The initiation of His revelation waited until the revelation of the Son who in-turn promised the coming of the Paraclete. After the ascension of the Son the Spirit was poured out upon the church to signify that the eschatological day has dawned in the world. Yet, with the dawning comes incompleteness since the final day has not been consummated with Christ's return.

So the Spirit works during this waiting time. He unites us, the believers, to Christ and thus all the blessings of Christ and the salvation He won are counted as ours and from this union we are recreated into the image of the one we are in union with. Yet, we are not saved to be individuals, we are saved into a new community of people who, along with each other, are being recreated in Christ's image--the church. The Holy Spirit works are symbolized and his presence draws near by and in the sacraments. And He works into each believer gifts to work as a unified body.

With so little written about the Holy Spirit in the contemporary church a sound, biblical study into the subject is welcomed and needed. On one end there is the perceived absence of contemporary scholarly study on the Doctrine. Then there has been the abuse of the Holy Spirit found in Pentecostal circles. Thus, no knowledge plus abuse will always drive people away. If people cannot understand the need for a sound Pneumatology then they will most likely drop the doctrine so as to not be associated with the abusers. So what the church needs is a reason to, once again, understand the Holy Spirit.

Sinclair Ferguson has written a remarkable book on the Holy Spirit. It seemed like every chapter gave new insights into who the Spirit is and what He does. Ferguson built his arguments with both an exegetical and historical-redemptive tracing.

It was a very enjoyable to see the Holy Spirit in the whole picture of the Biblical story of redemption. Starting with the Old Testament, we see how the Spirit works in the different ways that He is termed. And this revelation cumulates in His role in the New Covenant. Where systematic Theology is essential to proper theological study, biblical theology is just as needed. To have the Holy Spirit displayed in this way was delightful and enlightening.
Such a take brings much light to the present charismatic debates. If we just take exegetical studies on the Greek words found in Acts and Corinthians we can only go so far. But if we look at the role of the Holy Spirit through the full scope of the Cannon we can come to a better understanding. Was the Holy Spirit's role in giving people different tongues to allow individual Christians to have a special experience or was there a broader purpose to be filled? Should each Christian experience his or her own personal Pentecost? If we look at the story line of the Bible what is happening at Pentecost is a redemptive-historical event which, Publicly marks the transition from the old to the new covenant, and signifies the commencement of the `now' of the day of salvation (2 Cor. 6:2). It is the threshold of the last days, and inaugurates the new era in which the eschatological life of the future invades the present evil age in a proleptic manner. Thus, from the New Testament's stand point, the `fulfillment [or "end", ta tele] of the ages has dawned' (lit.) on those who, through the gift of the Spirit, are `in Christ'" (57-58). Thus, Pentecost and the miracles done there should not been seen as gifts for all of time, but specific miracles given to manifest the coming of a new covenant.

Not only is there a strong historical-redemptive tracing of the Holy Spirit but there is also a good systematic study of him as well. Biblical theology is not complete unless there is a systematic study of the components that make up the story line. Or else you are going to have a story with no understandable parts. And a good example of Ferguson doing this systematic study of the Holy Spirit is his role in the believer's salvation.

The Holy Spirit's work is not only about the inauguration of the new covenant but the in workings of the salvation in the believer's life. Ferguson rightly centralizes the role of the Holy Spirit in the believer's salvation as uniting the believer to Christ. So when united to Christ by the Spirit, "the blessings of salvation become ours through the Spirit, exclusively, immediately, simultaneously, and eschatologically in Christ" (102, Author's Emphasis). Thus we share in all the redemptive benefits that Christ accomplished; "those who are united to the risen Christ share in his justification, adoption, sanctification and glorification" (106, Author's Emphasis). Not only are all the benefits of Christ ours because of this union but also our change in our present existence. We are no longer in Adam, under the bondage of sin. But now, we are "in Christ" and walk by the Spirit. And the Spirit unites Christ to our humanity where He is presently transforming us into the image of God. Thus, the whole of the believer's salvation should be understood as the Spirit's work of uniting us to Christ and the outworks of that reality.

What the church needed was a thoroughly Biblical exposure of the person of the Holy Spirit. She got one in this book. Ferguson did a wonderful job in tracing the person of the Spirit through the story line of the Bible. An understanding of the Spirit is essential in our ecclesiology, soteriology, and overall theology. Obviously, no one work can adequately cover every aspect of the Holy Spirit in-depth. For an overview work though, Ferguson has given an excellent presentation of the Spirit for us to begin to grasp who and what the Spirit is and does.
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