SAN ANTONIO —
Anyone who attempts to write a book on the Holy Spirit is undertaking quite a challenge, considering the complexity of the topic as revealed throughout the Bible and, more specifically, in the New Testament. David S. Vanz’s book, “Rediscovering the Holy Spirit,” (Archway Publishing, 2017) has done just that, although he has focused principally of the work of the Holy Spirit in the Book of Acts. The subtitle of his book makes this emphasis clear: “Proponents, Opponents, Components in His Conquest to Expand the Kingdom.”
In the introduction Vanz brings in the proponents, opponents, and components, as they relate to the work of the Holy Spirit in Acts. Examples of the proponents are the twelve apostles, who were fully endowed with the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, and especially Peter. The components are the recipients of the Holy Spirit’s teaching throughout Acts (such as Cornelius and the Philippian jailer), and the opponents, of course, were the Jewish leaders and Roman authorities throughout Acts who opposed the Holy Spirit’s work. The Apostle Paul illustrates all three categories, beginning as an opponent, becoming a component on the Damascus road, and ending as the most prominent proponent of the Holy Spirit in the second half of Acts.
Chapter 1 focuses on the term “Pneuma” (translated “spirit” in Acts) and how it sheds light on the nature of the Holy Spirit. Vanz points out that the term appears 71 times in Acts alone and can have different shades of meaning, such as “Pneuma Hagion,” to be filled or baptized with the Holy Spirit, like the apostles on Pentecost. Vanz also identifies five specific uses of this word in Acts: “Holy Spirit (most frequent use), “the Spirit,” “unclean/evil spirits,” “human spirits, and “spirit-beings/angels.”
Chapters 3-5 discuss the Holy Spirit’s work of strengthening and endowing the proponents, converting the components, and defeating the opponents (at least ultimately). The first of these, obviously, is Acts 2, Pentecost, involving the “tongues of fire,” “rushing mighty wind,” and the ability to speak and/or understand numerous languages.
This event is followed up by Stephen’s Spirit-filled sermon in Acts 6-7 and his becoming the first martyr at the hands of the Jewish opponents. Next comes Philip’s rebuking Simon the Sorcerer’s attempt to buy the Holy Spirit’s power, as well as the Spirit’s guiding Philip to the Ethiopian eunuch, so that he could become a converted “component.”
Concerning the conversion of Cornelius in Acts 10, Vanz concedes that the bestowal of the Holy spirit on Cornelius “causes some modern students to raise an issue of the sequence between the Holy Spirit indwelling, conversion, and baptism.” Yet Vanz later insists that Cornelius’ conversion was a kind of “Gentile Pentecost,” intended to convince Peter and other Jewish Christians that Gentile converts were part of the Kingdom.
The second half of Acts reveals the Holy Spirit’s guidance of Paul in spreading the Good News throughout the Gentile Roman Empire. Vanz devotes most of Chapter 5, “Comrades of the Conquest,” to Paul’s activities in spreading the Gospel through the Holy Spirit’s guidance. He begins with the importance of the Holy Spirit at the Antioch church in commissioning Paul and his associates (Barnabas and Mark at first) to become missionaries to the Gentile world. Forbidding Paul and his companions to enter Bithynia in Acts 16 is a good example of the Holy Spirit’s direct intervention.
The final two chapters of “Rediscovering the Holy Spirit” identify special helps from the Spirit (Chapter 6) and bring the book to its conclusion (Chapter 7). The former chapter identifies and illustrates six specific helps of the Spirit: empowerment and opportunity for witness (Pentecost), motivation for courageous defense (Peter and Stephen), inclusion and empowerment (apostles and disciples), execution of signs and wonders (Pentecost, etc.), constant revelation and instruction (Agabus and Philip’s daughters), and strengthening of the church (Antioch, Ephesus, etc.).
In Chapter 7 Vanz concludes that in Acts, the Holy Spirit used the power of speech to usher in the Gospel and defend the components. He used miracles to convince and attract people to Jesus, and He removed obstacles and protected the new disciples. He revealed new information while instructing new believers to serve in the new family, and He provided applicable information to different cultures that ultimately led to the written revelation. Finally, Vanz affirms that today, because of the indwelling Holy Spirit no matter what our race, color, gender, or age, we can become servants and warriors in the ongoing spiritual conquest.
Some readers (including myself) may have preferred that more attention be given to the nature and work of the Holy Spirit in the epistles of Paul, Peter, and John, instead of focusing almost exclusively on Acts. Also, the excessive amount of summary detail, especially in Chapter 5, detracts somewhat from the book’s effectiveness. At the same time, Vanz’s book provides a valuable addition to 21st-century studies of the Holy Spirit’s role in the New Testament.
“Rediscovering the Holy Spirit” is available from these sources: Amazon Books, firstname.lastname@example.org, and rediscoveringthespirit.com/.