The Face of the Deep:
Exploring the Mysterious Person of the Holy Spirit
Paperback: David C. Cook, 2016
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Reviewed by Rebecca Johnston
In this debut book from author Paul Pastor, the author sets out to explore the person and work of the Holy Spirit. Paul Pastor is an editor pastor, and professor. He lives in Oregon and throughout the book it becomes obvious that he loves his home state and his life, adventures, and home provide stories that frame the backdrop of this narrative on the Holy Spirit. For a debut, Pastor has made an admirable step into a deep and complex topic. His insights are often profound and thought provoking and he is willing to wrestle with difficult theological and faith principles. Throughout the book there is a tension between finding a distinct answer within The Face of the Deep and allowing the conceptions of the Holy Spirit to remain mysterious and reverent.
Paul Pastor introduces the book with what he hopes the reader will receive from it and clarifies that “[t]his is not an exhaustive work on the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, but neither is it strictly devotional” (18). This sentence taken at face value will aid in guiding the reader through the rest of the author’s thoughts. The Face of the Deep is not an academic examination of doctrine, nor does it function strictly as a devotional to aid the believer in a deeper understanding of the triune nature of God or the work of the Holy Spirit in the individual’s life. Approaching the book as an academic survey or theological treatise will leave the reader disappointed. Paul Pastor tends toward the poetic and the intimacies of a personal faith in God the Holy Spirit as much as he relies on the academic understanding he has of the subject. The divergence into poetic imagery is often pleasant, but if unprepared for it will make the book feel laborious.
The Face of the Deep is structured in two parts each with seven chapters. These two parts are stylized as the Seven Stars and the Seven Lampstands. Paul Pastor gives some reasoning behind his choice of this symbolism at the end of the book, and his explanation makes sense, but the final product that comes from this framework hinders the profound insights Pastor is presenting by hiding moving thoughts within the demanding structure. An additional item of note to this book and its structure is the use of specially crafted iconography to present the chapters. The modern iconography is an interesting perspective on each chapter and artist and author worked well together to give visual representation to the imagery the author uses to convey the working of the Holy Spirit. There is a certain amount of creativity that went into the structuring of the book and the iconography choice. This work is beautiful and speaks to the artistry Pastor hopes to achieve in a topic as complex and bewildering as exploring who the Holy Spirit is and his activity in this world. A few of Paul Pastor’s thoughts are swallowed up in the expanse of their chapter and for the reader who can’t wade through to find the hidden points the book will lose some of its thoughtful artistry.
With more insight into the two sections, the first part, Seven Stars focuses on the Holy Spirit’s work before the coming of Jesus. While there is still application for the individual and the church today, Pastor’s focus is on how the Holy Spirit is represented through scripture and through the longing of creation for the Messiah to finally come. Paul Pastor outlines each idea well by providing a straightforward subtitle to each chapter. In this first section of the book the reader is introduced to the concepts of the Spirit who creates, inspires, speaks the truth, meets us, the Spirit of the Messiah, the Spirit who sustains and does new things. These seven topics at times overlap, but the stage is set as the book explores the Holy Spirit as creator and author of creativity in the individual. The focus remains on the work the Holy Spirit has done through the ages from the moment the universe first was created to the hope of all Christians as time continues to unwind toward its inevitable end point.
The Seven Lampstands, the second section, represent the work of the Holy Spirit currently in the life of the Christian as they await the return of Jesus and the making new of all things. Here the concepts of the Holy Spirit are the Spirit of unconditional love, the Spirit of the desert, the Spirit of new life, the Spirit who speaks new life, the Spirit who speaks through us, the Spirit who sanctifies, the Spirit who unifies, and the Spirit who invites. This section sets forth a call for all Christians to join with the Holy Spirit in the work he is doing. To head the cry of the Spirit as he prepares the world for something new and to be part of that newness. The need to stay within the framework of the two sections with seven chapters each hides some of the deep insights the author writes throughout the last seven chapters of the book. These compelling points are still tucked within the pages of this section, but some of the brilliance of his thoughts are overwhelmed in the form that is used to structure the work. In the Seven Lampstands Pastor delves into imagination, silence, scarcity, pilgrimage and power. There are gems of insight hidden within these chapters but the reader needs to remain patient to get to them.
As was mentioned above the book flows into poetic forms at times and Pastor also uses a distinct pattern of repetition. While this pattern of repetition reiterates his point, it can make the reading feel circular, and it can take more time to get to the meat of the subject. Judging by some of the author’s statements, this repetition is purposeful. Some of Pastor’s favored elements lend themselves better to being spoken rather than read which at times breaks the magic of the written word. However, the book contains wonderful illustrative stories and thoughtful insights, though it does at times diverge from its subject matter and takes time in refocusing on the concept of the Holy Spirit.
These minor issues aside, there are several dynamic statements made by Pastor that provide the reader with ample space to wrestle with them in the imagination. These thoughts are what give The Face of the Deep breath and make it truly worthy of exploration. It is these deep thoughts that also make the quirks and redundancies of secondary importance to the readability of this book. Pastor manages to tuck thoughtful gems throughout the entirety of The Face of the Deep. The book as a whole achieves Paul Pastor’s desire that “you find this book inspiring to your imagination and good for your soul” (19). If you are looking for something beyond devotional to wrestle with, to challenge or fine tune your premise and belief in the work of the Holy Spirit, Pastor does a worthy job of presenting the beauty and mystery of this third person of the Godhead while remaining reverent and respectful of the divinity of the Spirit.