Book Review: ‘The Anointed Son: A Trinitarian Spirit Christology’, by Myk Habets

The Anointed Son: A Trinitarian Spirit Christology‘, by Myk Habets, Pickwick Publications, 340 pp. $39.00

In this constructive volume, Myk Habets seeks to rehabilitate an aspect of christology that has long been overlooked and overshadowed: pneumatology. The role of the Spirit, Habets argues, ought to be fundamental in christology, and thinking pneumatologically in christology will enrich and even correct Christian thinking on this topic. The sparring-partner (and, at times, almost-bogeyman) of Spirit christology is classical orthodox Logos christology, though Habets does not seek to remove or replace Logos christology so much as supplement and augment it with a dynamic theology of the Spirit.

Habets properly begins in the second chapter, after an overview chapter (chapter 1). Here he is concerned with methodology in christology, and the dominant trajectories he identifies are well-known: christology from above (which takes as its point of departure the presupposition of Jesus’s  eternal preexistnce) and christology from below (which takes as its point of departure historical statements, experience and evidence of Jesus). Habets aligns himself firmly with the below-to-above approach, though he does not dismiss an above-to-below approach (classical Logos christology), noting that ‘the biblical authors encountered Jesus first, and then reflected on his being’ (p. 51). This chapter is very much a survey, however, and evidence that Habets’s approach is in fact the biblical approach comes later. We see, however, the main goal of Habets’s proposal: ‘bridging the gulf between Jesus’s humanity and divinity…by means of the Holy Spirit’ (p. 52)

Chapter three traces the historical development and triumph of Logos christology over Spirit christology from the early church to Chalcedon. Habets examines a number of key figures and debates in this period, and sees the resistance of Christian thinkers to the heresy of adoptionism as being a key factor in the emergence of Logos christology. The main thesis here, however, is that spirit-christology, albeit in an ‘implicit and undeveloped form’ formed something of a stream in several post-apostolic fathers such as Irenaeus, Lactantius and Paul Samosata, Athanasius and the Cappodicians, who all swim in this implicit stream. While Habets notes that all of these figures held to a Logos christology, he argues that in each there is an implicit spirit christology (sometimes taking the form of subtle criticisms of Logos christology. The Cappodicians, for example, made the Spirit key in their christology and were willing to argue that the ‘reciprocal relationship between Jesus and the Spirit extends beyond the economy and corresponds to the mystery of the unity and the ineffable communion that exists between the Spirit and Son from all eternity…’ (p. 78) In the closing section of the chapter, Habets compiles a taxonomy of criticisms of Logos christology: subordinationism, a de-emphasizing of the historical Jesus of Nazareth, and an over-reliance on ‘patterns of philosophical questioning’ (p. 87) which served to obscure more than clarify christological questions.

Chapter four is concerned with developing a pnematological hermenutic in conversation with contemporary New Testament christology. After surveying the development of christological doctrine via evolutionary as well as more organic theories, Habets argues that a Spirit-hermenutic that is fundamentally retroactive is far more adept at uncovering the identity of Jesus within the New Testament. Crucial here is the fact that, as Habets argues, such a hermenutic isn’t imposed arbitrarily from the outside but rather emerges from the New Testament itself. Also interesting is Habets interacting with Vanhoozer’s use of speech-act theory  in order to describe the working of the Spirit within the reader of Scripture.

While chapter four is largely methodological, chapter five is a survey of the New Testament’s material witness to Jesus, his identity and his relation to the Spirit. Paul’s writings are briefly examined, where Habets sees a tight link between the relation of the Spirit to Yahweh in the Old Testament and the relation of the Spirit to Christ in the New Testament. Following this brief interaction, Habets traces by way of six key events in Christ’s life the biblical basis for a Spirit christology: Jesus’s conception and birth, Jesus’s baptism and temptation, Jesus’s messianic vocation (and here Habets masterfully draws out the theme of Jesus as the ‘coming one’ – there is some superb exegetical and theological work done here), Jesus’s crucifixion, where the classic theologia crucis receives a pneumatalogical treatment, and a pneumatalogia crucis is put forward as a full realization of kenosis – indeed, the Spirit himself undergoes a kenosis here. The fifth episode is Jesus’s resurrection and the final episode is Jesus’s exaltation. There is a wealth of material here, and Habets masterfully interacts with both the New Testament as well as contemporary scholarship as the foundation of a Spirit-christology is carefully and methodically laid out.

The sixth chapter is, at this point, what we’re all waiting for: the groundwork has been laid, the qualifications, criticisms and footnotes are all in place. Here we finally see the constructive proposal for a Trinitarian Spirit christology put forward. Habets works with and through Rahner’s Rule and sees in the ‘functional’ language of Scripture a Trinitarian ontology – in other words, he consistently works from the revealed, economic Trinity to the immanent Trinity. Issues such as monarchy (here Habets follows Torrance in saying that the entire Trinity is what divine monarchy is predicated of) and perichoresis (which mitigates against subordinationist tendencies – ‘the persons [of the Trinity] are who they are because of the action of all three’ (p. 224) are delved into at length. Also appreciated is Habets critical and appreciative interaction with historical Reformed theologians like Owens and Irving.

The seventh and eighth chapters build on the sixth chapter, and articulate what a whole theology constructed on the ‘third article’ might look like. In chapter seven, three soteriological dogmatic loci are visited, but from a pneumatological perspective: union with Christ, theosis, and pneumatalogia crucis.  Chapter eight is primarily a backwards-looking survey as well as a look at how the Spirit-christology laid out in the previous chapters can impact the ecumenical debate, missions and the dogmatic theology of the church.

Habets has given us a remarkable volume – at once historically informed, critical, constructive and ecumenical while at the same time sensitive to contemporary theology and its trends. Here and there there are some questionable bits – the ‘greek philosophy versus Biblical theology’ card seems overplayed, especially in light of James Barr’s arguments against the Hebrew/Greek dichtotomy, both of which are cited by Habets (the former in his taxonomy of criticisms against Chalcedon, the latter in his arguments against extreme christological functionalism. However, quibbles aside, this well-documented book is, in my opinion, essential for those interested in what a robustly pneumatalogical christology – as well as a Third Article theology – looks like.  This is an important volume that students of christology and dogmatic theology will only benefit from.

**NOTE** I was given a free copy of this book in exchange for a review which in no way guaranteed a positive review

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