Historical Theology: The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit

In Chapter 18 of Historical Theology, Gregg Allison showed the church’s belief in the Holy Spirit from the early church to the modern period. While heretical movements (Dynamic Monarchianism, Modalistic Monarchianism, Arianism) challenged the traditional view of the Holy Spirit, the early church was able to defend its belief that the Holy Spirit is homoousios with the Father and the Son. In the Middle Ages, there was a division over the procession of the Holy Spirit between the Eastern and Western churches. Allison notes, “The Eastern church could not agree with the Western church on the issue of the double procession of the Holy Spirit.”[1] It was Anselm who mounted the most formidable response to the Eastern church’s rejection of this doctrine.[2] Anselm based his argument on Scripture (e.g., Jn. 14:26; Jn. 15:26) and concluded that “Jesus’ sending of the Spirit and the Father’s sending of the Spirit are one and the same.”[3] During the reformation and post-reformation, Martin Luther emphasized the role of the Holy Spirit in a person’s salvation and sanctification. John Calvin also showed the relationship between the Word and the Spirit to counter the mystics who disregarded the Scriptures and only relied on the Spirit. In the modern period, Pentecostalism, the charismatic movement, and “third wave” evangelicalism rose to prominence.

In Chapter 9 of Pilgrim Theology, Michael Horton focused on the work of the Holy Spirit from creation to consummation. He notes that “the Spirit’s career as the sanctifying divider-and-uniter is evident as early as the Bible’s account of creation” (Gen. 1:1-10).[4] Concerning redemption, Horton showed the redemptive work of the Trinity: “The Father gave a bride to the Son, the Son redeemed her, and now the Spirit unites them in everlasting communion.”[5] The Spirit does this in the following ways: He opens the eyes of their hearts to see the glory of Christ, grants them faith and spiritual life, and clothes them with the righteousness of Christ. Lastly, God’s Kingdom will be fully realized when Christ returns to rule the nations with truth and righteousness.

Dan McCartney’s The Kingdom of God as the Restoration of Human Vice-Regency showed that “the arrival of the reign of God is the reinstatement of the originally intended divine order for earth, with man properly situated as God’s vicegerent” (McCartney, 1994, 2). He examined the connection of the concept of divine rule and the vicegerency of man in the OT and showed how Jesus fulfilled it in the NT through his actions and teaching (proclamation, exorcism, healing, power over nature, shepherd imagery, time-limit announcements, Johannine pronouncements), his use of “Son of Man,” and in other New Testament authors (e.g., Luke, Peter, Paul, John). While the vicegerent reign of Christ is already here, it is not yet fully and finally realized. But when Christ returns, God’s rule will be evident to all.

Both Allison and Horton gave me a better understanding of the person and work of the Holy Spirit. I like how Allison showed how the church defended and affirmed the deity of the Holy Spirit and his procession from the Father and the Son. I believe this needs to be emphasized in the church today because some have reduced the Holy Spirit to a “force” or an “it”. Indeed, there needs to be a clear understanding of the role and person of the Holy Spirit if the church is to grow spiritually. Horton did a great job explaining the role of the Holy Spirit in redemption, regeneration, and sanctification. When properly understood, believers who base the success of their evangelism on “decisions” will no longer try to manipulate people to “ask Jesus to come into their hearts” but will seek to share the gospel faithfully and rely on the Spirit’s work. I also appreciate how Dan McCartney explained the vicegerency of Christ without minimizing the role of the Holy Spirit. He showed the vital role of the Spirit in this age: to glorify Christ and prepare the way for his return. As I apply the readings to world events (e.g., pandemic and crisis in Afghanistan) I am comforted by the fact that God remains to be in control and that He uses every event (good or bad) to accomplish his purpose.



[1] Gregg Allison, Historical Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 439, Kindle.

[2] Ibid., 439.

[3] Anselm, On the Procession of the Holy Spirit, 4 in Anselm, 406.

[4] Michael Horton, Pilgrim Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 231. Digital.

[5] Ibid., 236.