Creator Spirit: The Holy Spirit and the Art of Becoming Human

Written by Steven R. Guthrie Reviewed By Graham A. Cole

In this work Guthrie explores the interface between art, beauty, and spirit or what Jeremy S. Begbie in the foreword rightly calls 'foggy territory'. More specifically, he treats the relation between the Holy Spirit (pneumatology) and aesthetics. In other words, as the author correctly points out, his work is not a general systematic theology of the Holy Spirit. You will not find out from this work whether filioque is to be embraced or rejected for example (p. xviii). His aim is to provide a conversation facilitator for both theological students and arts students to enable an intelligent, Christian conversation concerning theological anthropology, pneumatology, and aesthetics, done within a biblically informed eschatological frame of reference. His thesis is that the Holy Spirit makes us truly human ('the humanizing Spirit') and that being truly human involves the arts. In the introduction Guthrie sets out his project in a programmatic way:

In creation, the Spirit is the breath of God that animates the dust of the ground and creates a living human being. Similarly, in the coming of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit is the incarnating Spirit. It is by the Spirit that the eternal Word of God becomes truly and fully human. The Spirit likewise rests upon and empowers the humanity of Jesus, and so we call him the Christ, the Messiah-that is, the one anointed with the Spirit. Finally, in the work of redemption and consummation, the Holy Spirit is the re-humanizing Spirit. The Spirit is poured out on God's people, so that by the Spirit they may become truly and fully human, recreated in the Image of the perfect humanity of Jesus Christ. (p. xvi, emphasis in original)

As I read this I was reminded of Irenaeus's words: 'The glory of God is humanity fully alive' (Against Heresies 4.34.5-7). To give just a few examples from the work itself, the arts that Guthrie treats cover classical music (e.g., Beethoven), jazz (e.g., Coltrane), rock (e.g., Van Halen), literature (e.g., Rilke), and the visual arts (e.g., Francis Bacon). He draws on philosophers past and present (e.g., Aristotle and Wolterstorff) and theologians past and present (e.g., Athanasius especially, Calvin and von Balthasar). Regarding Calvin, the work would have benefitted with some engagement with Calvin's provocative statement in the Institutes that argues that to despise the arts, sciences, and crafts of humanity is to dishonor the Holy Spirit (see II:II:14-18). The book consists of a total of twelve chapters arranged in three parts. After the introduction, Guthrie explores 'The Making of the Human' in Part 1, 'The Spirit's Making and Ours' in Part 2, and in Part 3, 'A World Remade'. Finally there is an epilogue: 'The Museum of Spirituality'.

Guthrie carries out his project with great deftness, erudition, depth of scholarly engagement, biblical and theological insight, and respect for Scripture. With regard to Scripture, when he develops 'A Christian Theological Framework for Artistic Inspiration', he develops his vision through a reading of Ps 104 (pp. 141-45). Pleasingly, Scripture references abound throughout this book. On the matter of biblical and theological insights, I found his treatment of the Ephesian text, 'Be filled with the Spirit', to be helpfully refreshing (pp. 78-82). He is aware of the debate as to whether the participles of Eph 5:18-21 are participles of result or participles of means. Significantly, this text-one long sentence in Greek-includes a reference to 'songs, hymns and spiritual songs'. On either view of the participle question, as Guthrie points out, there is a strong connection between the filling of the Spirit and the singing of the community: 'When the church sings together, it announces the new community the Spirit has created in Christ'. The gathering then 'would have heard a single melody arising from the mouths of men and women, Jews and Greeks, slave and free. If the church is the new humanity, then here is its voice'. Thanks to Guthrie I have a renewed appreciation of the congregational singing and its importance.

Another example of Guthrie's keen biblical and theological insight is found in his examination of the nature of discernment. He argues, 'The work of God's Spirit is to restore sight: to allow human beings to see truly, no longer blinded by ideology and priestcraft' (p. 153). He sees a parallel between the artist's ability to see truly and Christian discernment. He offers a kind of virtue epistemology. To quote P. T. Forsyth, 'the truth we see depends upon the man [or woman] we are'. Note it is not that truth depends upon us but what truth we are able to see does. Guthrie contends, 'We come to know the Spirit's leading by immersing ourselves in his narrative, becoming familiar with his way and words among his people' (p. 167). Discernment reframes stories so that their true nature can be seen. He uses Nathan's parabolic reframing of the story of David's adultery to make his point: 'Nathan offers David “a reseeing” of his situation' (p. 171). Guthrie maintains that Jesus does the same with the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:30-37 (p. 172). Guthrie then seeks to show how three artists exhibit 'seeing truly'. One is a dancer (Patricia Cross), one a cabinet maker and woodworker (Chris Barber), and finally a photographer (Sarah Bennett). Very stimulating! Even so, the criteriology that Guthrie offers would be even stronger if his notion of discernment had some interaction with the classic Pauline text on discernment of 1 Thess 5:19-21 in which the notion of testing, the Holy Spirit, good and evil are brought into meaningful nexus.

All in all, a fine book on a difficult subject!

Graham A. Cole

Graham A. Cole
Beeson Divinity School
Birmingham, Alabama, USA

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