Scholars discuss the Holy Spirit at Theology Conference

Communications Staff — November 5, 2018

As a prelude to the 70th national meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society on the Holy Spirit, the 2018 Theology Conference held at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Oct. 26-27, also dealt with the third person of the Trinity. Scholars from North America and New Zealand gathered in Louisville, Kentucky, during the weekend for the conference, which was titled “Beholding the Holy Spirit Afresh, in Scripture, in History and in Contemporary Life.”

The Theology Conference features a series of academic papers presented by leading scholars in their field. Bruce A. Ware, T. Rupert and Lucille Coleman Professor of Christian Theology at Southern Seminary, hosted the event.

James M. Hamilton Jr.

Old Testament scholar James M. Hamilton Jr. said the Holy Spirit both enables worship and forms the sphere where it happens in his talk, “The Holy Spirit and Christian Worship: The Life-Giving Legacy of the Apostolic Band.” Hamilton’s published dissertation God’s Indwelling Presence: The Ministry of the Holy Spirit in the Old and New Testaments, also dealt with the Holy Spirit and is widely acclaimed. He is also professor of biblical theology at Southern Seminary.

“The life-giving power of the Holy Spirit enables people to respond to God, making this aspect of the Spirit’s work most vital and significant when considering his role in Christian worship,” Hamilton said during the conference. “The Spirit not only gives life, he also mediates God’s presence by the word he inspires, the Christ he exalts, and the temple he indwells.”

Hamilton built this thesis on an explicitly Baptist ecclesiology, arguing that it is “most attuned to the Holy Spirit in Christian worship.”

“As the Lord Jesus builds the church, he builds the temple of the Holy Spirit, the new creation,” he said.

Theologian Christopher Holmes discussed God’s attribute of infinity and its relationship to the Christian life during his lecture. Holmes is the author of the first volume in the series New Studies of Dogmatics, titled The Holy Spirit, and was the first to present during the conference. Holmes is associate professor in systematic theology at the University of Otago, New Zealand.

At the heart of his lecture was the question: Can Christians, in any way, possess infinity? Holmes took his point from Jeremiah 23:24: “Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the LORD. Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the LORD.”

Everyone participates in God by the sheer fact that God gives them existence, according to Holmes, who focused on Origen of Alexandria’s phrase, “divine sense.” Christians participate and see God better because they have this “divine sense,” Holmes said. The more Christians love God, the more they participate in God’s attributes, according to Holmes.

“When we love God, our sight is renewed,” he said. “We see for the first time and we see the image of the invisible God, Jesus Christ. We also begin to love those who no one sees.”

Theologian Matthew Levering presented a paper on prayer and Holy Spirit at the conference. He began by reflecting on a conundrum: The fact that the Holy Spirit intercedes for us makes it seem like the Spirit is asking the other persons of the Trinity for something he is not able to provide. In theological terms, the intercession of the Holy Spirit might contradict the fact that he is of the same substance of Father and Son. Levering is the James N. and Mary D. Perry, Jr. Chair of Theology at Mundelein Seminary, in Mundelein, Illinois.

While some early Christian theologians argued that the Spirit’s intercession teaches people how to pray, another group of theologians focused on the Spirit’s love. The Spirit not only teaches how to pray and know things, but because he is love, he gives believers himself in love — and that is the great intersession of the Spirit.

“The healing of our desires to the things of God is already a share of participation in the life of God,” Levering said. Furthermore, according to Levering, the “Spirit teaches our minds what to pray for and when.” These two statements combine the two groups of theologians, enjoining both the love and knowledge of God.

Also presenting at the conference was Graham Cole, dean of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and professor of biblical and systematic theology. After Cole’s presentation, Ware led
a panel on pneumatology.

Each of the speakers had previously written books on the Holy Spirit, and Ware, who organized the conference, said that the motivation for inviting the speakers was closely related to the success of their works and their expertise in trinitarian theology.

The Theology Conference is a biennial event sponsored by the Gheens lectureship. Audio and video from the conference will be soon available at

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