"Understanding the Holy Spirit is a crucial task for Christian theology at all times. For where the Spirit's ministry is studied, it will also be sought after, and where it is sought after, spiritual vitality will result." (p. 235)
"CHRISTIANS WAKE UP! CHURCHES WAKE UP! THEOLOGIANS WAKE UP! We study and discus God, Christ, body life, mission, Christian social involvement, and many other things; we pay lip service to the Holy Spirit throughout (everyone does these days), but we are not yet taking Him seriously in any of it. In this we need to change." (236)
This is Packer's purpose and theme throughout the course of this book, and this is indeed the effect that this book has had in my own life in the last month or so. written almost 30 years ago, it carries the same weight today, and his analysis is still spot on. At nearly 300 pages, this book is thorough. Packer seeks to lay out for us a Biblical understanding of the Holy Spirit, without leaving anything out. He wants us to view the Spirit and emphasize the Spirit the way the Bible itself does. He does so clearly and powerfully.
Along the way, he addresses various views and alternately critiques and commends them. Packer is at his finest here, his charitableness and finding things to praise are admirable, and to be emulated as we disagree theologically with others. The first main area of differing views is the area of "holiness" in a believer's life. He evaluates the Reformed view, the Wesleyan view, and the Keswick/Higher Life view. This analysis is excellent, and is the first place where I've seen a thorough evaluation of Keswick theology (other than the e-book "Let Go and Let God?" by Andrew Naselli).
The second area of differing views is the gifts of the Spirit, and the charismatic movement. This section was incredibly helpful to me. Packer is no charismatic, but he is so charitable in finding commendable things in the movement, even while critiquing what he disagrees with. Take this for example:
"If the charismatic handling of all these problems fails to grab you, what is your alternative? Any who venture to criticize charismatic practices without facing these questions merit D.L. Moody's retort, a century ago, to a doctrinaire critic of his evangelistic methods: "Frankly, sir, I prefer the way I do it to the way you don't do it." The charismatic movement is a God-sent gadfly to goad the whole church into seeking more of totality before the Lord than most Christians today seem to know. Face the challenge!" (232)
I highly recommend this book to anyone seeking to better understand the Holy Spirit, different views of holiness, and the charismatic movement. It has also been republished with an extra chapter added in as: Keep in Step with the Spirit: Finding Fullness in Our Walk with God. I wanted the book in hardcover :-)
Also recommended: Martyn Lloyd-Jones - Joy Unspeakable, also published with Prove All Things in The Baptism and Gifts of the Spirit