Book Reviews

Book Review: Who is the Holy Spirit? (Malcom Yarnell III)

The Holy Spirit is often referred to as “the third wheel.” The Spirit is important, but many people don’t quite know what the Spirit actually does. Malcom Yarnell III, Research Professor of Theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, has written seven chapters on the Holy Spirit–what he does and who he is. In fact, what he does tells us a lot about who he is. The first half of Yarnell’s short book looks at the OT (Genesis 1; 1 Samuel 10-19; Psalm 51); the second half the NT (Matthew; John; Romans 8). His final chapter asks, “Who is the Holy Spirit to you?” There are things we cannot say about the Spirit and things we should say.

Yarnell’s “conviction” is that “Scripture is the perfect source for understanding ultimate reality, in this case for perceiving the identity of the Holy Spirit” (xvi). His “method” allows Scripture to speak for itself, as well as being helped by historic orthodox exegesis. This “drive[s] the theology  that will help preachers and teachers explain to their students and congregations the meaning of the reality of the Holy Spirit” (xvi). The “goal” isn’t just to give us detailed information about the Holy Spirit but to “encourage the true worship of God by his redeemed human creatures in Christ through the guidance of the Holy Spirit” (xvi).

How do we know who the Holy Spirit is? We look at what he does? Where do we find what he does? Do we find it in churches? Yes, but we begin by searching the Bible first. We know who the Holy Spirit is because of what he does.

Genesis 1: God’s Spirit is active in the creation of life (11), and the Spirit moved creation to be what God wanted it to be (10). It is sovereign within human life, and just as the Spirit was active in the first creation, the Spirit is active in the new creation too.

Yarnell shows how the Spirit was active with God in the creation of the world (Genesis 1), and how the Spirit is God, sovereign, and the Lord (1 Samuel 10-19), and Psalm 51 shows us how he is the “Holy” Spirit since he cleanses and transforms David. In Matthew’s Gospel, the Holy Spirit conceives Jesus in Mary’s womb (just as he was active in the creation of the world), he commissions Jesus (cd. Isa 42:1-4), he accompanies Jesus, and he shares deity with Jesus.

The Spirit is spoken of often in the second half of John’s Gospel, but he shows up quite often in the first half as well. The Son gives the Holy Spirit who gives new life. We can only truly worship God “in and through the person of the Holy Spirit” (82). We are baptized in him (1:33), receiving him without measure (3:34), and he flows from us like rivers of living water (7:38).

In Romans 8, the Spirit gives us life. Not just the hope of eternal life, but we experience eternal life now. We are now in union with Christ, and we receive his fullness of life now, even in the midst of suffering. Having been adopted by receiving God’s Spirit, the Spirit searches our hearts and intercedes for us.


Yarnell writes for the preacher, the teacher, and for the average Christian. This is a short book, but it is still quite academic in places. There are some discussions which briefly get into the weeds, but for the most part many will enjoy this and will learn a great deal from Yarnell. He begins with the text and stays in the text. He lets the Bible dictate his interpretation of who the Holy Spirit is.

Since this is a short book, here are a few more (it was hard to narrow this down, there are so many weird books out there) you can find to supplement your reading (from easiest to most difficult, though this is a guesstimate):


  • Author: Malcolm B. Yarnell III
  • Series: Hobbs College Library
  • Hardcover: 160 pages
  • Publisher: B&H Academic (August 15, 2019)
  • Sample: Read the beginning

Buy it from Amazon or B&H Academic!

Disclosure: I received this book free from B&H Academic. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255

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