This review appeared in the Apr-Jun 2012 vol. 169 no. 2 issue of Biblotheca Sacra, DTS’s quarterly academic journal.Subscribe Today
Creator Spirit: The Holy Spirit and the Art of Becoming HumanBaker Academic, Grand Rapids May 1, 2011
Guthrie teaches religion at Belmont University in Nashville. In the introduction he observes that the word “spiritual” has a wide usage in contemporary culture. Thus “a Christian might well wonder: what does ‘spiritual’ mean, what do the people who use this word mean by it when they employ it in these settings? And do these uses bear any resemblance to the word as it is used in a specifically Christian sense, such as when it is used to speak of the Holy Spirit of Christian belief?” (pp. xi–xii). Of particular interest to Guthrie is the intersection of spirituality and beauty in the arts. He surveys “some of the various ways and some of the various reasons the aesthetic and the spiritual have been paired” (p. xiii).
According to Guthrie the main reason many have linked the aesthetic and the spiritual is found in the “particular Christian understanding of ‘spirituality’—one that I believe is foundational to all other Christian uses. Namely, I will be thinking about Christian spirituality as, in the first instance, Spirit-uality. For Christian theology, the ‘spiritual’ is manifestly the realm of the Holy Spirit” (p. xv). Following Gordon Fee, who explains that “the word functions primarily as an adjective for the Spirit, referring to that which belongs to, or pertains to, the Spirit” (God’s Empowering Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Letters of Paul [Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1994], 29), Guthrie concludes: “In the New Testament, ‘spiritual’ is not simply a way of denoting one’s own beliefs, tendencies, practices, or experiences (except insofar as those relate to the Holy Spirit of God). For Paul, a ‘spiritual person’ is ‘a person of the Holy Spirit’ ” (pp. xv–xvi).
The three major sections of the book correspond to Guthrie’s conviction that “one of the principal works of the Holy Spirit is to make and remake our humanity. In creation, incarnation, and redemption, the Holy Spirit is the humanizing Spirit” (p. xvi). Weaving together the Scriptures, Athanasius’ Letters to Serapion, the music of John Coltrane, the painting of Wassily Kandinsky, as well as film, cabinet-making, novels, poetry, and other artistic expressions, Guthrie demonstrates a variety “of the ways and reasons art and beauty have been linked with spirit” (p. xviii).
This refreshing treatment of pneumatology is unusual in the integration of Christian theology and aesthetics. The conclusion of the penultimate chapter summarizes the book succinctly: “The Spirit is the firstfruits, bringing the new creation into our presence even now and steadily drawing all things toward consummation. When we truly experience beauty, particularly beauty that is marked by perfection, proportion and clarity, we may sense that we have encountered something ‘spiritual,’ perhaps even something of the new creation. We are right to feel this way” (p. 209).
The book concludes with these words: “As we have repeated throughout this book, the work of the Spirit is to perfect and complete our humanity, a work the Spirit has in fact already accomplished in the glorified humanity of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the ground and confirmation that the Holy Spirit is concerned with our humanity, but just for that reason Jesus Christ in all his concrete, historical specificity cannot be set to one side in favor of a generic, abstract spirituality. . . . When the dust of the earth is filled with the breath of God, it becomes a place of glory” (pp. 214–15). In short, this book tells the story of the Spirit’s work of redemption. It is thus recommended for lovers of the gospel and of the arts, for theologians, pastors, teachers, students, and others who desire to join the Spirit of God in His work in this world.
—Glenn R. Kreider