Book Review: The Holy Spirit by Ivan Satyarata

The Holy Spirit: Lord and Life-Giver
Ivan Satyavrata
InterVaristy Press
April 2009
ISBN: 978-0-8308-3307-8
IVP
Amazon

It’s a bit of a low blow to poorly review a literary/artistic work when you are charging it with not being what you expected it to be.  For example, when I was 8, my art teacher asked us to draw and color…I think it was a landscape. Now I have never really been a great artist, mostly because I’ve been colorblind since birth (though I did have a brief phase during my adolescence in which I won a prize from a local art gallery for my pencil and black ink rendering of some shadowy, comic book-esque superhero). So when it came time for me to draw a landscape, and I spent the time grabbing any color I felt like and making scribbles all over the place, when our work was done my teacher kicked me out of class, called my mother, and had a conference that afternoon. She told my mother that my work was unbecoming of an eight-year old. My mother blinked at her and said “what’s becoming of an eight year old in art class?”

The story is not directly equivalent, but the meaning shines through ( I hope): it’s not fair for me to set expectations for Satyavrata’s book- that he had no intent of keeping – and then criticize him for not doing so. However, the marketing of this book has made it particularly difficult not to.

This book is part of an IV Press series called “Christian Doctrine in Global Perspective”, with John Stott as the consulting editor. I was excited about his role as consulting editor, given that I tend to agree with the sizable chunks of the theologies of the evangelical Anglican types (like J.I. Packer, Stott, NT Wright most notably).

Satyavrata is an Assemblies of God (AoG) pastor in India and president of Buntain Thoelogical College. AoG is a pentecostal denomination, and it is my current denomination, though I am not a pentecostal. They are kind of enough to keep me around.

So anyway, given the above, I expected that this would explain a bit about pneumatology (the doctrine of the Spirit) with a particular eye toward the Indian view of it. I expected this view to be a bit post-colonial – not sounding particularly Western in its orientation. And I expected it to be grounded in orthodoxy, given that Stott affixes his name to it.

While I can safely say that it is within the bounds of orthodoxy, I did not get a particularly “global perspective” with this book. What I mean in this: I didn’t really learn much about how the Indian church, or the southeast Asian church with whom Satyavrata is in dialogue, orients itself toward the Holy Spirit. In the few instances that Satyavrata does interact with the “third world-view” (if you’ll pardon my expression as such), it is to correct errors in it. This is helpful, since too often those who try to be sympathetic to the global church just agree wholesale with their interpretations of faith and worship. However, Satyavrata does not articulate a position that is particularly Eastern, global, or post-colonial. This could just as easily be written by an Anglo-American theologian.

What I Like about this Book

I’ll end on some thoughts about what I like about this book. I think if you are oriented toward a more “via media” (middle way) of looking at things (I use this in the place of ecumenical, since that can be too loaded), a sort of C.S. Lewis orthodoxy of “what basics can we all agree on?”, then this book is a fantastic introduction if you want to learn more about the Holy Spirit. Satyavrata is anything but sectarian. In fact, one of the most useful chapters is a historical overview of the view of the Holy Spirit since the beginning of the church. This was massively helpful for me. It might be too general for some, but I think it is a good introduction for someone like me who generally does not have a lot of pneumatology under his belt.

Here’s what he has to say about Anabaptists:

…the Anabaptists believed in an imminent age of the Spirit and also denied that baptism was a means of grace. Menno Simons, their most influential leader, regarded Christ alone as the preeminent sign of grace, and baptism as more a pledge of obedience than a rite of conversion. Water baptism must be administered only to those who have turned to Christ already and been baptized with the Holy Spirit. This marks the beginning of a life guided and empowered by the Holy Spirit, who then reproduces the nature of Christ in the life of the believer. Simons ephasized the Spirit’s anointing, through which Christians are bestowed with spiritual gifts. He also taught that the Spirit enables God’s will to be expressed through the consensus of the believing community…

…In addition to the baptism of the Spirit and by water, the Anabaptists also believed in a baptism of fire and blood. Strong emphasis began to be placed on the baptism of blood, generally referring to martyrdom and outward suffering in the world This was also sometimes applied corporately to the believing community as a whole rather than the individual, the basis of an important emphasis on the suffering of the righteous remnant.

…the various Anabaptists sects were more open to [spiritual gifts]. They witnessed many occurences similar to those observed in the Pentecostal movement today, including healings, prophecy, tongues, and dancing in the Spirit. However, despite some of these similarities with contemporary Pentecostals, there are marked differences. Most significantly, for Anabaptists, the baptism of the Spirit is primarily associated with salvation and involves suffereing; for Pentecostals, Spirit baptism is an endowment of power for ministry, a joyful experience rather than endurance under trial.

Any thoughts on that?

Satyavrata also deals with the doctrine of the “baptism of the Holy Spirit” charitably.For those unfamiliar with this concept, here’s my pathetic attempt at a definition: the baptism of the Holy Spirit is anevent, subsequent to regeneration, justification, and conversion (in whatever order you put these), in which the believer receives a greater outpouring of/blessing by the Holy Spirit. It is believed that this baptism is accompanied by spiritual gifts and tongues.

Some charismatics/pentecostals believe that one is not saved without the Baptism of the Holy Spirit (an error), others believe that the Holy Spirit is not active in you unless you have this particular baptism (an error), others believe it is simply a greater and deeper experience of the Spirit (closer to truth). While the baptism of the Holy Spirit is an individual experience (in that each believer is individually gifted), it can occur corporately since it is an event. This is why missionaries in some countries tend to be more “charismatic”, since (from their perspective) they have experienced events where thousands of believers at once are baptized with the Holy Spirit in a very Pentecost-like way. Satyavrata likens this Pentecostal distinctive to other historical understandings of the work of the Holy Spirit, such as the Roman Catholic notion of “confirmation” and the Puritan notion of the “sealing of the spirit”.

Rather than looking at the content of the book, as I am, and saying “this doesn’t seem particularly global”, one could say that an introductory text devoted entirely to the Holy Spirit is in and of itself a testimony to the global mark upon Christendom. It is no secret that the third world is more open to a charismatic understanding of the Holy Spirit than the West, even if the third world can sometimes stray toward Unitarianism of the Holy Spirit. Traditionally, Protestant theologies have tended to give more space to christology, soteriology, and theology (doctrine of God proper) than pneumatology. There are of course significant outliers to that assertion (John Owen’s work on communion with the Holy Spirit being one that comes to mind immediately). As such, one could benefit greatly from having this book on your shelf next to the Western systematics, christologies, etc. that tend to crowd the bookshelves of doctrine geeks.

Comments (6)

  1. TimN

    the baptism of blog,generally referring to martyrdom

    So that’s what’s been going on here for the last 3 years…

    But seriously, I’ve only recently heard this term “baptism of blood” as analogous baptism by fire and baptism by water. I can’t say I’m familiar with it enough yet to mach much comment. That said, I do resonate with the idea of baptism of the community as a whole, rather then just an individual.

    Reply
  2. folknotions (Post author)

    Tim,

    Thanks for noticing that…man that’s funny. I made the edit just now.

    The baptism of blood in the suffering church is an interesting one, and I think you can find biblical warrant for it (perhaps when I get time I will). However, I sometimes wonder if, when applied on the ground, if this tends toward a sort of antagonisms toward “the world” that are the marks of the separatist fundamentalism in many elements of the Mennonite Church.

    I for one am not a separatist – this is where I break with Dirk Phillips and Menno – I do believe that the church is a community of sinners redeemed and being sanctified, not a “pure” church in the sense that all who are gathered within the church are keeping up with the morality Joneses.

    Reply
  3. John

    The first thing to remember is that the IVP is essentially an outlet for right-wing religious propaganda.

    It also promotes the conceit that Christianity is the only source of “truth” and the world; and consequently that ALL other Faith Traditions are wrong and therefore the work of “satan” or the “devil”.

    Plus I would strongly recommend to get out your crucifix and garlic too (for self protection) when anyone prattles on about the “baptism of blood”.

    Reply
  4. folknotions (Post author)

    That the above trolling (by John) was even dignified with approval by one our administrators is a problem.

    Unless YAR has devolved into a frontier for relativism and wild assertions, which, quite frankly, wouldn’t surprise me.

    For all the talk about building “safe spaces” here, a comment that jokes about Mennonite martyrdom, that says that it is a lie to state the Christianity is the truth, and maligns an otherwise diverse (within the Christian community) publishing house – I certainly don’t feel like this is a safe space.

    Reply
  5. admin

    Folknotions,

    Sorry about that. The way the WordPress settings are set up is that only the first coment by a user needs to be approved by an administrator. Once they have had one comment approved, the can post more comments without them being held for moderation. In this case, John’s first comments seemed harmless enough, but then they devolved considerably over the holidays while I wasn’t checking the blog daily.

    I must say I’m a bit disappointed that you wouldn’t be surprised if we became a “frontier for relativism and wild assertions.” Since the other administrators left two years ago, I’ve been left with the sole admin responsible for approving comments held for moderation and other troll curbing tasks. It’s a daily responsibility I’d really prefer to share. If you’d like to help out, please let me know.

    I’ve left John’s comment on this post so that your comment makes sense, but if you would prefer to have it removed completely, let me know. I’ve also removed a number of his more obnoxious comments that were in the moderation queue and all of his future comments will be held for moderation.

    Sincerely,
    Tim

    Reply
  6. folknotions (Post author)

    Tim

    My comment was rash and I should have been more patient before posting that. I apologize. I was unaware of a few things:

    1) that you were the only one approving comments – I was pretty sure you weren’t the one who approved the comments, so it was in no way directed at you.
    2) that once one comment is approved, so are all others

    Otherwise I would not have said what I said.

    However, some posts/comments on YAR have bugged me in the past…oh I’d say year…and I’ve held my tongue quite often. I figured that most folks had admin access and someone thought all these comments were totally appropriate for what we do on YAR. I guess I let John’s flurry of wackiness get the better of me this time.

    Again, I apologize personally to you, Tim, and to any others who may have been offended.

    Reply

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>