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Book Review of He Who Gives Life: The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit by Graham Cole

He Who Gives Life: The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit



Cole, Graham A. He Who Gives Life: the Doctrine of the Holy Spirit. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2007.

Cole, Graham. “Faculty and Staff Beeson Divinity School Samford University.” Last modified January 1, 2013. Accessed October 16, 2013.

Cole, Graham. “Crossway Authors A. Cole.” Last modified January 1, 2013. Accessed October 16, 2013.


He Who Gives Life, written by Graham Cole, provides a modern paradigm for pneumatology, the study of the person, works, and relationships of the Holy Spirit. The focus provided in these pages reflects Cole’s decision to apply theology to life, while discussing how he/she must live today. In light of this contemporary perspective, “evangelical theologians work with tradition, or the witness of Christian thought” while keeping a “firm eye on the contemporary world of human predicament”. This review begins with a biographical sketch of Graham Cole outlining this work, it then moves to providing theological insights, and finally shifts to the strengths and weaknesses found within He Who Gives Life. We will begin with a look at Dr. Graham A. Cole’s background and then briefly summarize the content of this work.



Dr. Graham A. Cole comes to theology through a diverse background of education and practice. Currently serving on the faculty of Beeson Divinity in Birmingham, AL, and previously instructing at Trinity Evangelical, he also lectured at Moore Theological College and the University of Sydney. On the practical side of ministry, Dr. Cole has served two parishes as an ordained Anglican minister. His own education began at the University of Sydney (BA and MTh) and the University of London (BD) before heading to Moore Theological College (DipA) and for his doctoral work Australian College of Theology (ThL and ThD). He has authored Engaging with the Holy Spirit: Real Questions, Practical Answers; He Who Gives Life: Doctrine of the Holy Spirit; and God the Peacemaker: How Atonement Brings Shalom. On a more personal note, Dr. Cole is married to Jules, a fashion designer, author, and fashion instructor. With this look into the background of Dr. Cole, the next subsection provides a brief overview of the content of his work, He Who Gives Life.


​The study of pneumatology has intrigued the minds of many scholars, theologians, pastors, and parishioners alike, even dating back to the Apostles and early church fathers. These men and women have the same questions: who or what the Holy Spirit is, and how does he/she/it work in the lives of individuals everywhere. These questions, among a multitude of others, arise when individuals attempt to discern the Holy Spirit in his/her life. Cole provides an excellent paradigm for better understanding the Spirit in He Who Gives Life.

​Beginning with an introduction to his approach in this study, Cole explains his perspective hinges on the doctrine of Scriptural (Special) Revelation. The Scriptural Revelation of God provides the individual with a foundation to build his/her understanding of systematic theology. The General Revelation, through nature, points to and enhances the Scriptural Revelation, and in turn, enables him/her to apply scripture. This doctrine is a foundation for a holistic approach to systematic theology and in view of Cole’s work, a holistic paradigm for pneumatology. Cole breaks his paradigm into four parts the mystery of the Spirit, the ministry of the Spirit in the Old Testament (OT), the ministry of the Spirit in the New Testament (NT), and the magnificence of Divine selfishness. The remainder of this subsection focuses on a summation of these four parts.

​As the basis for a discussion on pneumatology, Cole prescribes a quote by Daniel L. Migliore, “Christian theology begins, continues, and ends with the inexhaustible mystery of God.” This mystery shrouds every aspect of theology including the study of the Spirit; the epistemological elusiveness of this person of the Trinity must also be examined in light of “the personhood of the Spirit, the deity of the Spirit, and the Spirit’s relation to the triune Godhead.” The second portion focuses on the ministry of the Spirit in the OT.

​Throughout the OT, there are moments of revelation when the presence of Christ or the presence of the Spirit reveals to individuals or groups. This section of the book follows the scholastic principle of “operari sequitur esse, or operation follows being”. Cole covers the following themes: “the Spirit and creation as the ‘Lord of life’; the Spirit’s role in making God known through revelation; the Spirit’s role in the institutional life of God’s OT people; and the Spirit’s part in the messianic hopes of Israel.” Finally, in the end of Part 2, the discussion of the vocabulary used for and symbols of Holy Spirit occurs. This focus on the ministry of the Spirit continues as Cole moves on to the NT testimony.

​One of the more heavily debated aspects of the NT revolves around the work of the Spirit in the life and ministry of Jesus, as well as, the life and ministry of individual believers. Part 3 continues this examination, while expanding the readers’ comprehension of the Messiah. Here Cole discusses the Spirit’s role in providing the substance of the Messiah’s miraculous effects and the Messianic role in pouring out the Spirit upon God’s people in the NT, while continuing this work in corporate life today. Some of the themes covered in this portion include: Pentecost revisited, the making of God’s children, the baptism and fullness of the Spirit, the Spirit’s relation to water baptism and the Lord’s supper, the gifts of the Spirit given to the body of Christ, and the future of the church and cosmos in the light of pneumatology. The question of revelation, once again, posed earlier is revisited now in light of the Spirit’s role in the inspiration and illumination of Scripture. In the end, Cole proposes his perspective on the manifestation of the Spirit in contemporary culture.

​Part 4 of He Who Gives Life, concludes the book with an overarching sweep of the mystery and ministry of the Spirit. A final discussion on the “magnificence of the self-effacing Spirit comes into prominence.” Here, Cole focuses particular attention on the Spirit as the searcher, bond, executor, and perfecter of the things of God. Throughout these four parts, Cole provides a depth of theological insights guided by scripture for the express purpose of glorifying God, and the imputation of belief and behavior in the life of the reader. The following section of this paper addresses these theological insights.


This section of the paper brings into focus the theological insights Cole provides the reader with in light of the themes discussed in each chapter. Along with these themes, he also expresses the implications for belief and behavior in the life of the reader. It is in this section that these insights and implications become the groundwork for his/her reason to read He Who Gives Life, as well as, the reason for further study and application of theology. As divided above this section follows the four parts of the book.

In Part 1, Cole begins with a discussion on the appropriateness of the term mystery when dealing with the Spirit. He states “mystery is an epistemological claim about an ontological reality.” Furthermore, “to fail to reckon with mystery is a failure to reckon with the actual content of biblical revelation.” The beauty of the express revelation of God revolves around the fact that The Only God chose to reveal himself. Today, this revelation continues through the work and ministry of the Spirit as an equal co-laborer in the Trinity. Biblically speaking the OT witness of the Triune God is without rival. From the beginning, the creation comes into existence through the spoken word of God. As time progresses Israel needs afresh voice from the Lord when Moses hears “the Lord is one (Deut. 6:4)”.

In the NT, Jesus reaffirms the oneness of God in Mark 12:28-34 by quoting the shema. Lastly, Paul then identifies the unity of the Godhead when he writes to the believers in Corinth regarding foods offered to idols. Through the entire Scripture the Spirit, in line with God the Father, and Jesus the Son, holds position and authority as a member of the Godhead. As final evidence, Jesus instructs the disciples to baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit (Matt. 28:18-20). To complete Part 1, Cole concludes his discussion on the personhood and divinity of the Spirit with a comparison of four seminal theological ideas of heuristic worth. One of the most useful insights from Part 1 focuses on the differences between the Eastern and Western Trinitarianism. Eastern beliefs revolve around the “two hands of God” theology or the single, timeless breathing out, whereas, Western beliefs revolve around the Spirit jointly and eternally being a double breathing by the Father and the Son. Understanding ones perspective on this difference influences his/her reading of the work and ministry of the Spirit throughout all of Scripture.

Part 2 builds on the theological understanding to include a scriptural perspective from the OT on the work and ministry of the Spirit. The fundamental challenge revolves on ones translation of ru^ach and pneuma. Charles H. H. Scobie describes the problem as depending on context when these terms can mean “wind,” “breathe,” or “spirit” in both the Hebrew and Greek. With regard to the work of the Spirit during creation, various translations focus on different aspects. The English Standard and New International Versions both center on the “Spirit” of God hovering over the earth in Genesis 1:2b, while the New Revised Standard Version and Jewish Study Bible provide alternatives: mighty wind or spirit of God. Cole states when reading Genesis 1:2b “as a Christian Scripture in the context of the entire canon as its ‘hermeneutically primary context’ the human author’s intention may not have been a reference to the Third Person of the Godhead, yet such a meaning was in the mind of God.”

From creation, Cole moves to the Spirit’s work and ministry in the life of the nation of Israel. Part of the work of creation continues as people continue to require recovery through a parallel between Christology and pneumatology. One of the main theological insights gained in Part 2 sheds light on two accents of pneumatology: the Spirit and the leadership of Israel, and the Spirit and the divine presence among God’s people. Cole explains these accents as follows:

“The first accent especially concerns the shaping of the divine project to reclaim creation. The second has to do with the divine goal of God at home with his people in his place, living under his rule, living his way, and in his holy and loving presence.”

These two accents bring focus to the divine care, the divine governance, the divine communication, and the divine presence. All throughout the OT the Spirit leads Israel through Moses, elders, judges, and eventually human kingship (Saul and David); it is in this vein that “the Spirit then impels the Word of the Lord to his people.” The outpouring of the Spirit upon the people of God in the OT differs from that of the NT, yet there are similarities as well especially in the life and ministry of Jesus.

​Part 3 makes a strategic move from discussing the OT pneumatological work and ministry to highlighting the parallel with the Spirit’s work and ministry in Christ. In light of the key events in the life and ministry of Jesus, the Spirit’s presence comes into view as a “key player in the story.” The Spirit’s presence is evident from the conception of Jesus in the womb of the Virgin Mary, as well as in the doves decent at the baptism of Jesus. Next, the Spirit guides Jesus into the wilderness after which he begins his public ministry through the empowerment of the Spirit. Later upon the cross “the Father gave up the Son, the Son gave up himself, and the Spirit kept the triune Godhead from imploding”; thus at the resurrection the “Spirit was the divine agent by which God the Father raised Jesus from the dead.” Finally, at the ascension some concluded, “The Spirit vindicated Christ when he took him up in glory”, but the scriptural evidence is speculative at best. After the ascension the work and ministry of the Spirit comes into clearer focus.

​Today, the work and ministry of the Spirit began at Pentecost as the disciples were sent out with the Spirit upon them, just as Jesus was sent with the Spirit upon him (see John 1:33 and 20:21-22). Their ministry focuses on the forgiveness of sin, just as Jesus’ ministry fell on the forgiveness of sin. This is not to say that this is the only work and ministry of the Spirit or disciples, but rather the basis for which “baptism and the gift are predicated on the believing in the Lordship of Christ.” Finally, according to Mark Noll, “Up to the early 1700s, British Protestants preached on God’s plan for the church. From the mid-1700s, however, evangelicals emphasized God’s plan for the individual.” This shift provides clarity to ones understanding of the work and ministry of the Spirit within the life of believers and the believer’s individual comprehension of the knowledge of God.

​The final part, Part 4, focuses on the magnificence of divine selflessness. Providing an overarching schematic of his book, Cole concludes with a final theological insight, “in a world of self-promotion, the magnificence of the Spirit lies, not in self-display, but in self-abnegation.” This has often been described as the “kenosis” or self-emptying of the Spirit. Cole prefers “self-effacement” or “divine selflessness” due to the lack of pneumatic verse comparable to Philippians 2:5-11. Throughout this section, the identification of Cole’s theological insights provided a blueprint of He Who Gives Life. While these insights are of interest to the writer, they may or may not have been new information for the reader. The next section discusses the strengths and weaknesses of this book.


​In this portion of the review the focus shifts from and overview perspective to that of a concentrated discussion on the strengths and weaknesses of He Who Gives Life. The identified strengths provide for the practical application of pneumatological thought, while the weaknesses point to areas Cole should reconsider. First, we will deal with the two areas of weakness.

​He Who Gives Life provides the reader with an excellent systematic approach to pneumatology, yet there are two areas Cole could revision. The first area for revision revolves around the discussion of the language utilized in discussing the Spirit. It is the belief of this writer that this aspect of the discussion holds vital importance with regard to the entirety of the doctrine and not simply a brief glance. The evidence that Cole provides, mainly the original language discussion, provides for a broad stroke instead of a specific finding. If the average believer holds to the ideology of the Spirit as male, then the discussion has the potential to shift to extremes. If the Father is male, the Son is male, and the Spirit is male then how can “life”, as we understand it, require the presence of a feminine counterpart? Even Augustine faced this area of concern in his writing Of The Trinity. The potential of God, in his triunity, to be male should not surprise anyone as he holds omnipotence within him. The question at hand focuses on the placement of this discussion within He Who Gives Life. Currently, this discussion resides a quarter of the way through Cole’s discussion as an endnote to Chapter 3, The Spirit and the Triune God. This position works well within Cole’s work, yet the importance within this discussion that elevates its value to the first chapter as introductory. By laying the foundation of masculinity within the Triune God in the midst of the introduction, the reader can then eliminate the series of basic misconceptions that may arise. In the, it is suggested that Cole move the discussion into Chapter 2 with an intermingling with the Traditional and Evangelical perspectives he provides.

​While suggestion made is for Cole shift the discussion of the gender of the Spirit to Chapter 2, Cole must also remediate some of the current content. In the midst of each part, Cole holds discussion on the early church fathers and while this discussion is highly valuable the repetition of the material could easily be reduced into a chapter on the early church fathers perspective of the Holy Spirit. This will impact the laborious nature of the seeming discussion and focus on one area. The main example of the laborious discussion focuses on Part 3 and the Bestower of the Spirit. Others have identified a weakness of Cole's utilization of extreme perspectives on the discussion of pneumatology, but this is a refreshing addition for a more conservative author.

The strengths of He Who Gives Life are extensive, and therefore, would require greater length to this small portion of book review. The main strengths identified for discussion come at the end of each chapter. After exhausting the points within each chapter, Cole then answers questions raised during his diatribe providing clarification, as well as, points for belief and practice. The answers and clarification provided at the end chapter allow the lay theologian to not only comprehend the discussion, but it also equips them with the needed tools to apply the discussion to his/her life and theology. Examples of this strength are Cole's questions and points for belief and practice in Chapter 9. Here Cole has concluded his discussion on the Spirit, the Church, and the hope of glory, and thus moves into a discussion on how this impacts the people of God and their life in the world. By far the lengthiest Implications for Belief and Practice section, Cole wants to solidify the readers understanding that the believer is in union with Christ through the Spirit, therefore, he/she has a mission only able to be accomplished through the fullness of the Spirit in the life of the believer creating a holiness of character. He/she must not lose sight of the imminence of Christ's return for his people.

The final strength reflects the previous statement on the early church fathers and extreme perspectives. When someone simply revolves within the realm of his/her own belief system there are few points needing further depth of review, yet when one determines to stretch his/her belief system the study of the early church fathers and outside perspectives provides for great stretching to occur. Cole utilizes the theological works of Augustine, John Calvin, Abraham Kuyper, and Basil of Caesarea, Richard of St. Victor, Jurgen Moltmann, Karl Barth, and J. I. Packer amongst others. Throughout these examples the readers theology grows, which is the never-ending pursuit of a theologian. In the end, I would highly recommend He Who Gives Life for anyone seeking a contemporary perspective on pneumatology. Whether a lay, professional, or academic theologian, Graham Cole provides exactly what is needed to reach those desiring an extended understanding of the person, work, and ministry of the Holy Spirit.


This book review of He Who Gives Life, by Graham A. Cole has provided an overarching perspective of this work. The focus revolved around pneumatology, the study of the person, works, and relationships of the Holy Spirit which has immense intrinsic value in historic and contemporary theology. With the end of the modernism and the coming end of postmodernism, the transmodern perspective requires a fresh review and application of pneumatology that goes beyond the narrow thinking of previous eras and provides the future with a holistic approach to doing theology. Cole states, "an evangelical approach to the doctrine of the Holy Spirit needs to be an evidence-based practice…evidence provided by contemporary Christian experience needs to be viewed through the grid of Scripture." He continues by explaining, "evidence-based theological practice provides scriptural support for its affirmations and denials." This book does just that, it takes Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience then rakes them over the Scriptures to reveal a contemporary theological comprehension of the Holy Spirit. As one book of a corporate series, the others must also be examined in this light.

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