Over the last few decades, reflection on the third person of the Trinity has been a major topic within and across theological disciplines. A guide is thus needed. That is what Daniel Castelo aims to provide in this short book. What sort of guide? As Castelo acknowledges, one may not find in this book “an exhaustive reference work” (p. xi). Instead, it is “a collection of ‘working papers’ (especially in its latter chapters) that offers a glimpse into the field with the aim of clarifying some of the most pressing concerns associated with it” (p. xii). This book is an aid to “perplexed” readers that offers, at least, a route to explore a few areas within a large field of pneumatology.
Due to the breadth and depth of pneumatology, Castelo devotes seven condensed chapters to reflecting on some of the key issues. The first three chapters deal with some lingering fundamental issues. Chapter one brings forth a set of challenges and expectations within pneumatology. Castelo offers a keen perspective on how Christology is privileged over pneumatology, which in turn creates a serious challenge to Spirit-talk. Moreover, the inadequacy and ambiguity of terms employed within the domain of Spirit-talk, the difficulty in translation, the relationality and the transpersonal nature of the Spirit have implications for major challenges within the field of pneumatology. Chapter two presents the shape of Spirit-talk in terms of diverse biblical tags, patterns, and themes. Rather than a threat to truth and meaning, this diversity is actually a gift to the church. Providing a brief survey of biblical materials along the lines of Spirit-talk, Castelo argues that consistency and coherence are not to be identified with uniformity and homogeneity. In chapter three, Castelo surveys the earliest construals of pneumatology through the eyes of major figures such as Irenaeus, Athanasius, the Cappadocians, and Augustine amid the Trinitarian controversies.
The remaining four chapters reflect specifically Castelo’s focus on making a case for the vitality and necessity of Spirit-discourse in Christian life. The Spirit works in every aspect of life, such that the deep relationship between pneumatological framings and worldview thinking cannot be ignored without doing injustice to the reality of the permeating work of the Spirit. Chapter four discusses an oft underestimated-yet-crucial topic in pneumatology, that is, the relationship between the Spirit and cosmology. Castelo points out that although most Christians have a working consensus regarding the role of the Spirit in creation, they acknowledge little to no active role for the Spirit in their cosmology. A pneumatological cosmology is thus greatly needed. However, it is puzzling that Castelo leaves untreated significant contributions to the topic by non-Pentecostals such as John Calvin, John Owen, and Jürgen Moltmann. Against the contemporary tendency to limit the role of the Spirit within the bounds of doctrinal categories such as “inspiration” and “illumination,” chapter five elaborates the topic of mediation, in which the Spirit is discussed as being at work in the life of the Christian community through a variety of means—especially Scripture—for the church’s ongoing healing and sanctification. The work of the Spirit in and through Scripture (and other means) is more organic than merely inherent in the process of its writing. Holy Scripture is a pneumatological phenomenon. The Spirit works ceaselessly for the sanctification of Christian life. Chapter six takes on the different views of Spirit-baptism, comparing in particular “sacramental,” “evangelical,” and “Pentecostal” views. In this chapter Castelo offers a helpful and wise proposal for how to deal with recalcitrant approaches to theological conundrums, that is, to acknowledge differences in the alternatives and to prioritize a larger theological framework rather than a reductive attempt to defend one over the others or to resolve the irreconcilable differences. In the case of Spirit-baptism, he suggests that theologians from diverse traditions may find a constructive consensus by reframing the discussions within the overarching goal of sanctification, that is the maturation and transformation of Christians (2 Cor 3:17–18). Discussions related to the Christian life, Castelo points out, “can be reframed so that growing vitality and an abiding desire for God can be prioritized in such discussions” (p. 116). This sets the stage nicely for the last chapter in which he discusses discernment of pneumatological activity. Here Castelo deals with the following questions: Where is the Spirit at work? What is the Spirit’s work? What is the Spirit ultimately trying to do? He shows that finding answers to these questions is enormously complex. The tensions exist between the vast work of the Spirit and the human culture-ridden ability to discern it. Discernment ought not to depend on human freedom (Chung) nor formulas (Wesleyan Quadrilateral), but on the Spirit himself. To discern the Spirit “one needs capacitation by the Spirit” (p. 130); one also needs to be an “epiclectic” self, that is, “a Spirit-dependent and Spirit-enabled” self, an actively engaging member of a Christian worshipping community (p. 132).
Castelo’s book is not only a guide but also an insightful proposal for how to deal with the work of the Spirit honestly and openly, in a nonreductive and constructive way, and with proper appreciation for existing traditions. But this book is not a beginner-level introduction to pneumatology; general readers with minimal theological background will find it hard going as they read this book. Those with the necessary background will certainly find this book compelling and stimulating.