[easyazon_image align=”left” height=”333″ identifier=”0830845445″ locale=”US” src=”https://englewoodreview.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/51zPVur24PL.jpg” tag=”douloschristo-20″ width=”222″]Who is the Holy Spirit?
A Brief Review of
Here In Spirit:
Knowing the Spirit Who Creates, Sustains, and Transforms Everything
Paperback: IVP Books, 2018
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Reviewed by Alisa Williams
In this brief book, author Jonathan K. Dodson invites the reader to discover who the Holy Spirit is and to come to know Him better. “The most meaningful, creative, satisfying life possible is one lived here in Spirit,” writes Dodson in the introduction (5).
Dodson’s goal is admirable, as I don’t think enough is known or understood about the Holy Spirit and His work in the lives of individuals. When one thinks of the Spirit, it is easy to dismiss Him as some intangible, ethereal force, rather than a full person and member of the Trinity.
However, the author’s execution of this subject, and his goal that readers would better know the Spirit by the final pages, fell flat, in my opinion. Readers won’t find a deep dive into theology in this work. Rather, Dodson’s book is littered with pop culture references that gave the subject a superficiality that distracted from a serious and important topic.
Though Dodson does reference almost 250 Bible verses that refer to the Holy Spirit, these brief discussions are couched between expansive personal narrative and the above-mentioned pop culture asides. Certainly, Dodson’s own personal journey of better-knowing the Spirit is of value, but because so much space was dedicated to this, the book read more as an autobiography of the author than a biography of the Holy Spirit.
I came away from the book feeling that I knew the author, or at least many of his activities, pretty well, but was left scratching my head at what, if anything, I had gleaned about the Spirit that I didn’t already know before reading 168 pages. At one point, I did a word count on the shortest chapter (the seven-page Chapter 12) and found that the number of references the author made to himself was nearly double the number of references to the Holy Spirit (almost 60 vs. just over 30).
I think this is a case where the book could have better served its goal by being even shorter — an article-length piece would have covered the important content on the Spirit while eliminating the distracting “fluff” of stories about snowboarding, marathon training, and poor choices made in the author’s youth.
I was also concerned by what appeared to me rather limited theology in some of the examples Dodson gave. These were glossed over quickly and without much context, so it was hard to decipher his true intent. In one instance, the author discusses a man who declares the Spirit is leading him to divorce his wife, but who had no reason that “constituted biblical grounds,” to which Dodson concludes, “This was clearly not a prompting of the Spirit because the Spirit does not violate Scripture’s teaching. Discerning which thoughts are prompts from the Spirit and which are not can be challenging, especially when we have sinful motives” (74). In many Christian denominations, the lack of “biblical grounds” is often used to pressure women who are being abused by their husbands into staying in violent relationships, citing the fact that abuse is not “biblical grounds” for divorce. Would such a motive for leaving a marriage be considered “sinful” in Dodson’s mind? It’s difficult to tell, because this example, as with so many of his others, lacked additional context, nuance, or discussion.
On that same page (74), he also references Paul’s advice in 1 Corinthians 7:8-9 that widows should stay single. While this is done in the context of saying that “Scripture recognizes a degree of subjectivity in discerning the Holy Spirit’s leading,” Dodson does not elaborate past that statement, which would have been easily accomplished by citing other biblical instances where widows are permitted, and even encouraged, to remarry (1 Corinthians 7:39, Romans 7:3, 1 Timothy 5:14, to name a few). Without that additional elaboration or context, this example is at best an unhelpful distraction from his main point, and at worst could lead readers to conclude that Dodson agrees that widows should not remarry, which isn’t something that should be carelessly stated without further explanation.
In one final example, Dodson discusses instances from his pastoral counseling experience, including one where he describes a “woman who thinks if she can identify all the negative influences in her life for who she’s become, she will be free from her depression.” Dodson then goes on to state that “comprehensive explanations of life influences and sinful patterns have subverted simple, Spirit-empowered prompts to repentance and faith in the promises of God” (106). One could easily interpret this to mean that if the woman just repents and has faith, her depression will be cured. This is dangerous theology, if this was Dodson’s point, though again, with the lack of nuance and elaboration, it’s difficult to tell. The fact remains that anyone suffering from mental illness should seek counseling from a trained mental health professional. A belief in the Spirit’s power can and should live comfortably with guidance by those He has gifted with medical understanding, talents, and training.
In these examples and more, I was uncomfortable with the disparaging way in which Dodson discussed these various (unnamed) church members and friends. It was clear that Dodson felt his opinions on the Spirit’s leading in his own life were correct and to be followed, while the examples given about others who had felt the Spirit leading were to be viewed with suspicion. To his credit, he reiterated several times that one should always refer back to Scripture and proceed with caution if one thinks the Spirit is calling them to do something, but even so, I found his tone condescending and in poor taste.
Overall, I didn’t find that my knowledge of or relationship with the Holy Spirit grew through reading this book. But though I was disappointed by the lack of depth and thorough theology, I do recognize that other readers may appreciate these very things, as a book like this can perhaps open one up to a more authentic relationship with the Spirit and ease one into more serious reading that goes along with such an endeavor.
Alisa Williams is the managing editor of SpectrumMagazine.org. She blogs at alisawilliamswrites.com, tweets at @AWWritesStories, and bookstagrams at @AllyWritesStories.
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: C-Christopher-Smith.com