Book Review: Who Is the Holy Spirit?

by | Mar 26, 2020 | Book Review

What do you do for a living?

It’s one of the first things most of us do when we meet someone new. We conceptualize our identities in terms of what we do. Who is the Holy Spirit? Systematic theologies speak to His deity and personality, before moving on to His work. But it’s the work of the Holy Spirit that usually receives the bulk of the attention. And Malcolm B. Yarnell III doesn’t ignore the Holy Spirit’s work in his book, Who is the Holy Spirit? Biblical Insights into His Divine Person. But his overall approach is to bring out how the Bible describes the Holy Spirit. There is more to the Holy Spirit than indwelling, sealing, baptizing, gifting, filling, etc., as important as those works are. He has an identity. And Yarnell exegetes six Bible passages—three from the OT, three from the NT—to see what God’s Word reveals on the identity of the Holy Spirit. This short book is a biblical theology of the Holy Spirit written with theological depth and devotional warmth. It’s not meant to be an exhaustive treatment, it’s a popular-level theological interpretation of the Holy Spirit. And it’s a good one.  

In the first chapter, Yarnell shows from Gen. 1 how the Holy Spirit is the mysterious and mighty “Mover,” active in creation and providence. In the second, His deity, sovereignty, and Lordship are expounded from 1 Sam. 10–19. Chapter three offers an examination of man’s sin and God’s holiness in light of Psalm 51. Chapter four teaches the important relationship between God the Spirit and God the Son as revealed in the Gospel of Matthew. In the fifth, the Gospel of John offers insight into the Holy Spirit’s relationships with God the Father, believers, and the world. Chapter six looks to Romans 8 for teaching the interplay between the Holy Spirit and the Christian life. The conclusion offers summary, synthesis, and an evangelistic call to respond.   

My theological training was weighted more heavily towards systematic than biblical. Both are critical for the Christian, but I find biblical theology so refreshing. There’s something to be said for inductively working your way through a passage, answering questions on what we can learn about the Holy Spirit. There’s a context that holds everything together. The author has a purpose he’s writing to achieve. And that can be lost if we only keep our noses in systematic doctrinal treatments. And Yarnell’s treatment of the Holy Spirit is refreshing. Not merely because of biblical theology, but because it’s doxological, exegetical, simple, and clear. It’s also practical. Every chapter gives the reader something to apply. I’m convinced Christians should read good theology, and this is a good theological treatment of the Holy Spirit to read. 

When it comes to the average Christian’s knowledge of the Triune God, the person they probably know the least about is the Holy Spirit. Christians know plenty about God the Father. Christians know plenty about the Son. But what do most people actually know about who the Holy Spirit is other than some of the works He performs? Yarnell has done the church a service by shifting the spotlight to shine on both what the Holy Spirit does and who the Holy Spirit is. 

Thanks to B&H Academic for providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

Brent Niedergall

Pastor, Grammarian, Runner

Brent Niedergall, MDiv, is Chief Editor at Positive Action for Christ in Whitakers, North Carolina. He’s gone to war in Afghanistan, felled towering trees, and parsed Greek verbs.


Brent Niedergall