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In the adult Bible Class this quarter, we have been examining the EFCA's Statement of Faith. Article 6 of the statement addresses the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. In that lesson, I challenged us to think biblically about the Holy Spirit and the Spirit's place in our personal lives and in our church's worship. To help us grow in our theology and practice of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, I want to recommend St. Basil the Great's On the Holy Spirit.

Basil of Caesarea (c. 330-379) wrote On the Holy Spirit near the end of his life, laying a theological foundation for trinitarian orthodoxy. His writing about the Holy Spirit has had a lasting impact on the Church's theology that transcends the debates of his own time. This short book answers perennial questions about the Trinity more broadly and the Holy Spirit more specifically.

I'll admit that some sections of the book might be a little challenging on first reading, not because they are complicated but because he addresses questions raised in his particular context. Still, those sections are worth pressing into because many of the questions that people in Basil's day had about the Holy Spirit are the same questions that we have today. For example, Basil basically weighs whether we should be more fearful of over-worshipping or under-worshipping the Holy Spirit. He asks, "Which should we fear, that we will overstep his dignity with excessive honor? Or the opposite, that we would be diminishing our estimation of him…?" He then cites several passages of Scripture attributing divine action and glory to the Holy Spirit.

The majority of the chapters address distinct questions or work to advance specific theological concepts, such as the way that the prepositions we use in reference to the Holy Spirit communicate different realities. For example, when we offer praise to the Father and the Son with the Holy Spirit, we emphasize the equality of each member of the Trinity and the Holy Spirit's reception of our worship. Using this terminology, we glorify the Holy Spirit. However, when we offer praise to the Father and the Son through the Holy Spirit, we give thanks to God, enabled by the Holy Spirit. But in the ninth chapter, he offers a listing of the person and work of the Holy Spirit in Scripture that is, on its own, edifying.  

Although he particularly addresses the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, he also considers the Trinity more generally. In his writing about the inter-Trinitarian relationship, he addresses a current debate in the evangelical world regarding the Son's relationship to the Father. Some advocate a view referred to as the Eternal Subordination of the Son (also known as Eternal Functional Subordination). In several places, Basil advances claims about the relationship between Father and Son that would militate against the ESS/EFS perspective.

Finally, Basil's exploration of the Holy Spirit touches on other interesting subjects, such as baptism, the role of tradition, etc. While we may not agree with all of Basil's views, I do appreciate that he represents a credobaptist perspective on Baptism. Although he and the other Cappadocian Fathers were in the minority on this point, they provide evidence for rich theological reflection on Baptism that modern credobaptists can appreciate. For example, he writes:

Now faith and Baptism are two ways of salvation that are naturally united with each other and indivisible. While faith is perfected by Baptism, Baptism is established by faith, and each is carried out by the same names. For as we believe in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, so also we are baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The confession that brings salvation comes first and there follows Baptism which seals our assent.

Basil concludes his work with a warning against the kind of divisiveness that commonly infiltrates the Christian community. He warns:

We attack each other, and are overturned by each other. Even if the enemy did not hit us first, the comrade wounded us; and if someone was hit and fell, his comrade stepped on him. We have in common with each other that we hate our opponents, but whenever the enemies leave, we then harm each other as enemies.… In everyone love has grown cold, and fraternal communion, destroyed. Even the name of unity is unknown, and loving correction has disappeared. Nowhere is there Christian mercy; nowhere, a sympathetic tear. There is no one who receives 'the weak in faith' (Rom 14.1), but rather there is such a hatred kindled up between members of the same race, that each rejoices more in a neighbor's fault than in their own perfections.

Basil's On the Holy Spirit is a great starting place for Christians wanting to learn about and reflect deeply on the Holy Spirit. His wise treatment of other topics promises to repay the reader for their time and attention.

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