Brief Reviews, VOLUME 4

Brief Review: Holy Spirit and Salvation – Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen, ed. [Vol. 4, #1]

231361: Holy Spirit and Salvation: The Sources of Christian Theology

A Brief Review of

Holy Spirit and Salvation:
The Sources of Christian Theology

By Veli-Matti Karkkainen
Paperback: Westminster John Knox Pres, 2010.

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Reviewed by Chase Roden.

Holy Spirit and Salvation is the second book in the “Sources of Christian Theology” series published by Westminster John Knox Press. The series provides a curated overview of the primary sources for Christian thought and theology on the topic at hand, edited by an expert in the field. In effect, this book is a collection of extended quotes from influential and important works on the Holy Spirit, with each quote concisely introduced and placed in context by Fuller Theological Seminary professor of systematic theology Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen.

Holy Spirit is an excellent resource for students of theology and a reference for those who are already very familiar with the topic. Kärkkäinen’s selections are thoughtful; the reader will encounter not just the expected names, but also many lesser-known figures whose writings have been vital. Useful not just as an overview of thought on theologies of the Holy Spirit, it also introduces readers to a selection of secondary literature. Despite the necessarily abbreviated nature of Kärkkäinen’s source quotes, the editor does not shy away from sources which discuss the Holy Spirit metaphorically or poetically. These quotes are appropriately introduced, and their inclusion enriches the collection greatly.

The book is divided into two major sections — one each on historical and contemporary thought — and in both the author attempts to avoid an overemphasis on the Western church or the first world. Specifically, there is a subsection on the “global south” which surveys major trends in African, Asian, and Latin American pneumatologies, along with chapters on feminist theologies, use of the Holy Spirit in environmentalist thought, and a more general chapter on “the Spirit in the sociopolitical arena.”

Those with Anabaptist or Radical Reformation interests will find the movement is covered somewhat minimally. The historical section quotes only Thomas Müntzer and Menno Simons. Kärkkäinen disclaims his selections by noting that the two figures are both “representative examples” and that “their writings are … easily available in English.” One wonders if this is a helpful note for the English-speaking reader, or an admission of unfamiliarity with Radical Reformation sources. The contemporary section’s discussion of Anabaptist pneumatology uses Thomas Finger’s Contemporary Anabaptist Theology, in addition to official documents from the Mennonite General Assembly. Using Finger is natural here, since his recent work is the most comprehensive of its kind, but the particular selection is unusual — Kärkkäinen quotes Finger’s suggestion that that the Orthodox concept of theosis could be integrated into Anabaptist charismatic theology. In a more thorough treatment of Anabaptist thought this would be unquestionably useful, but since so little space is devoted to the topic here, it seems unusual to choose the most controversial and synthetic part of Finger’s work.

Other than quibbles about selections — and no book of this nature will please every reader — the only other notable flaw is that the index is not as useful as it could be, including only references to individuals quoted but not to topics or quotes from institutional documents. The book is well-organized, however, alleviating this problem somewhat. Overall, Holy Spirit will be well-used in seminary classrooms and serves as an excellent reference on its topic.

C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at:

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