John Taylor, former Anglican bishop of Winchester, provides an eminently readable and charming (if slightly outdated) look at the Holy Spirit and its workings in Scripture and in the modern world. This book is developed from Taylor’s 1967 Cadbury Lectures in Theology at the University of Birmingham. In it, Taylor surveys the Spirit’s activity as the sole and continual motivator of Christian activity. He rejects both crass materialism and unreflective supernaturalism, using biblical and theological texts and observations about current Christian practice to suggest that rather than consider the Holy Spirit as a lackadaisical Trinitarian add-on, the Spirit is theologically central to every activity of Christian life.
Taylor begins his survey by acknowledging the difficulty of reconciling a God who exists both beyond and completely in our sensory created universe. He suggests that we begin our experience of the Spirit by recognizing spiritual activity in our everyday impressions – that Spirit is present in the act of sensation itself. For example, Taylor comments, “I am writing this book out of a conviction that nothing is more needed by humanity today, and by the church in particular, than the recovery of a sense of ‘beyond-ness’ in the whole of life to revive the springs of wonder and adoration.” (p. 45) In his examinations of the Spirit’s role in creation, bringing forth the community of God, and particularly the Spirit’s necessary connection with Jesus Christ, Taylor deftly weaves together biblical exegesis and important concepts from major theologians like Tillich and Barth. He finally summarizes the marks of the Spirit biblically and theologically as 1) creativity, 2) connectivity, and 3) recognition of the other.
In Part II, Taylor turns his attention to the activity and mission of the church today. Recognizing the ever-present disconnect between the institutional structures of the church and the creative and mobile activity of the Spirit is a particular strength of this section of the book. Taylor stresses the basic concept that the church exists in the Spirit, not that the Spirit is given to the church as a tool: “For if we phrase it in the second way, although it is the New Testament way, we are in danger of perpetuating the irreverence of picturing God’s Spirit as a grant of superhuman power or guidance, like a fairy sword or magic mirror to equip us for our adventures.” (133) He cautions us (with deft exegesis) not to allow the Christian church to become one of the principalities and powers against which the New Testament warns us. Instead, the church should mirror the Spirit in which it exists in fostering more authentic human growth, creative flourishing, and an alternate mode of communal existence. Returning to his opening theme of the Spirit as the principle of mediation himself, Taylor’s final passage exemplifies his winsome way with words: “That is the embrace of God, his kiss of life. That is the embrace of his mission, and of our intercession. And the Holy Spirit is the force in the straining muscles of an arm, the film of sweat between pressed cheeks, the mingled wetness on the backs of clasped hands. He is as close and as unobtrusive as that, and as irresistibly strong.” (243)
Taylor’s book provides an important reminder of the necessity of pneumatology to the theological task – that thought and prayer and liturgy about the Holy Spirit are equally necessary to our activity about God and about Jesus Christ. Taylor’s reminder that the Spirit urges us toward a communal humanity is a message especially pertinent in an age of crushing multinational capitalism and a rising tide of individual greed and fear of the Other. The Christian church desperately needs to be a force for bringing humanity to its best self, the self for which God intends us – a community of particular but connected beings, none more important or less deserving of basic rights and needs than another, not because of government principles or economic productivity, but because in the end we are all connected by the Spirit as children of God.