A friend of mine tipped me off about a new and helpful work on the Holy Spirit in  modern theology: Najeeb Awad’s God Without a Face?: On the Personal Individuation of the Holy Spirit, published with Mohr Siebeck in their newly established series Dogmatik in Der Moderne.  Mohr Siebeck kindly offered me a copy of the book to review here.

This engaging and challenging monograph began its life as doctoral thesis submitted to King’s College London, under the supervision of Colin Gunton and later Murrie Rae.  The title–God Without a Face?–points to ambiguity most Christians have with regard to the Holy Spirit.  God the Father, they understand, and God the Son, but what do we really think about the Spirit?  Many think of the Spirit as merely a way of talking about God’s action, and if they distinguish the Spirit from the Father and/or Son, he is merely an “it”, an indistiguishable grey blob of energy (cf. Gordon Fee, Paul, the Spirit, and the People of God, 24).  However, Awad wants the church and the academy to think more clearly about the distinct personhood, or “individuation” of the Spirit, so that one cannot think about God as Father and as Son without at the same time thinking about God as the Spirit.

Awad’s work is a fruit of the return to Trinitarian studies in the 20th century, which was spurred on by Barth but moved beyond him with the work of Moltmann and later Gunton and Torrance and a slew of other contemporary theologians.  This movement is not merely centered in Protestant thinking because it is highly influenced by greater ecumenical discussions particularly with Orthodox theologians as well as the patristic resourcement–a return to patristic sources as central to theological discussions.  Awad is no different in this, in that his study, is largely focused on patristic debates as means to assess modern Trinitarian constructions.  In particular, Cappadocian Trinitarian thinking is central to Awad’s argument.  This, I think, is a helpful move for all sorts of areas of theology, as my own thesis work on Greek patristic soteriology as a helpful introduction to reading Paul.  Accordingly, before picking up Awad’s monograph, I was already amenable to his methodology.

At the same time, I think the problem that Awad addresses is a central issue within Christian theology.  What place does the Spirit have in our theology?  Are we truly Trinitarian or do we merely use this language out of habit and out of tradition?  When I was in seminary and took my first class in systematics, my prof helpfully guided us into the Trinity as the foundational framework for doing theology.  As my essay for that class, I did a brief survey of different Protestant churches asking things about their stated views of God and their practice of incorporating the Trinity into their preaching and teaching.  I, unsurprisingly, found much continuity between different traditions about the Father and the Son, but there were wildly different conceptions of the Spirit portrayed.  This spurred me on to write almost every optional-topic essay I had in seminary about the Spirit–Spirit in the OT, Spirit in the New Covenant, etc.–so that I could better conceive of the Spirit in the divine economy.  I don’t think I personally scratched the surface, but I began to get a better feel for the Trinity.  I am woefully conscious of the continued general lack of Spirit-awareness, as my recent post on Christomonism demonstrates.

For my review I’ll do a few more posts as I interact with his helpful volume, so check back for those.

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