July 28, 2010

Paul, the Spirit, and the People of God by Gordon Fee

To many Christians, the Holy Spirit is a fuzzy figure about whom they can say little with confidence.  Unfamiliar with his person and work, believers often move through their Christian life with very little lively experience of the Spirit.  This problem is compounded by a significant neglect of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit in both academic and church settings.  In Pauline studies specifically, the Holy Spirit has been much neglected.  The present book by Gordon Fee, Paul, the Spirit, and the People of God, aims to fill the gaping hole in the life of the church by working through Paul's presuppositions and teaching on the Spirit as presented in his thirteen canonical letters.  The book is intended for interested laypersons and is quite accessible.  Those with knowledge of current scholarship on Paul will notice Fee's interaction with various takes on Paul, but readers with little or no background in Pauline studies will not be hindered as they work through this book.  A number of features make this book beneficial and, as a result, are worthy of note.

First, and perhaps most importantly, Fee writes with the hope of nurturing the church in the Spirit.  His is no mere academic exercise, but an effort in leading the church to know God as he has revealed himself in scripture.  The book regularly provides practical implications of the material for the life of the church, and, in this sense, this book is for the church and a model for doing theology.

Second, while Fee strongly emphasizes the experiential aspect of the Spirit, he never presents that experience as being inconsistent with the Spirit of God as revealed in scripture.  All too often, Spirit movements have an "anything goes" attitude with regard to the experience and manifestation of the Spirit.  Fee does not espouse such an attitude.  The reader comes away from this book rightly feeling that the author would have him experience the Holy Spirit in a vibrant and fresh way, but the experience is always of the Spirit as made known in the Bible.

Third, many Christians find the language of the Trinity to be challenging and difficult and, as a result, never seek to understand this sine qua non of the Christian religion.  Fee, however, presents the person of the Spirit in a very accessible way.  He explains the trinitarian language of the church in clear terms and shows how Paul presupposed the later trinitarian formulations even if he did not use their exact language.  Worth special note is Fee's presentation of the Holy Spirit as a person of the Trinity.  When the Holy Spirit is written or spoken of, impersonal terminology is often used (e.g., wind, fire).  Fee helpfully highlights the way Paul uses verbs of personal action with regard to the Spirit, as he also does with regard to the Father and the Son.  This emphasis on the personal nature of the Spirit is especially important for understanding how the Spirit intends to be at work in the life of the church.

Fourth, Fee manages to balance a number of issues which are often over emphasized either one way or the other.  He maintains a good balance between the individual and corporate dimensions of the Holy Spirit's work. He also maintains a good balance between the gifts and the fruit of the Spirit.  This balance is referred to by Fee as "the radical middle."  He generally does a fine job of walking the line between various extremes.

Fifth, Fee's understanding of Paul's theology is thoroughly eschatological, which is important because Paul's theology was thoroughly eschatological.  Paul's thought and mission were shaped by his perception of living in the unique period of time between the first and second comings of Christ.  Fee well represents Paul's understanding of the Spirit in the life of the church as especially shaped by this eschatological orientation. 

All in all, this is a fine book that will serve as a good introduction to the study of the Holy Spirit.  Looking closely at the Pauline material as Fee presents it may well whet the appetite for further study as presented by other biblical authors.  Fee's work will lead you to desire the experience of the Spirit for yourself, your local church, and the church universal.

No comments: