Book Review: Sculptor Spirit by Leopoldo A. Sánchez
Sculptor Spirit: Models of Sanctification from Spirit Christology
by Leopoldo A. Sánchez
InterVarsity Press, 2019
reviewed by Alec Fisher
[T]he same Spirit in whom Jesus lived shapes the lives of his disciples today.
-Sánchez, Sculptor Spirit, 15
For a long time, I sensed a limitation in the way that I spoke of the Holy Spirit and his role in the life of the church. I found myself going back to the same word formulations, the same images, which all seemed very static, inadequate, and ineffective. Whereas the doctrine of justification was central, sanctification was minimized if not completely overlooked. Though I wouldn’t have admitted it at the time, I had reduced the Holy Spirit to nothing more than a mere concept—a logical necessity. Several years ago, that all changed. I began to pay more attention to the Spirit—the way that I understood and regarded his work in the life of Christ and the life of the church—in a way that I never had before. For the very first time in my life, I saw the doctrine of the Holy Spirit come alive. It was the Spring of 2013, and I was sitting in the classroom of Dr. Leopoldo Sánchez.
In his book Sculptor Spirit, Sánchez addresses the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit from a Lutheran perspective not only on the conceptual level but also by offering a narrative approach, employing different stories of the Spirit’s work in the life of the church. He writes,
In this work, I argue that a Spirit Christology, which looks at the role of God’s Spirit in Jesus’ life and mission, provides a theological framework for articulating a models-based approach to sanctification that can assist pastors and church leaders to engage the spiritual hopes and struggles of neighbors in and outside the church, especially in a North American context (xvi).
Sánchez begins with two chapters that are more academic in nature. In the first, he discusses the relationship between the trajectories of logos christology and spirit christology in modern scholarship and—in continuation from his previous work—adopts both, as he speaks in terms of the genus pneumatikon, or “the identity of the incarnate Logos as the receiver, bearer, and giver of God’s Spirit” (39). The following chapter then surveys the contributions made by fourth-century church fathers toward understanding the role, nature, and active work of the Spirit amidst the fallout of the Arian controversy. He writes, “As God, the Holy Spirit is thus capable of conforming creatures to the likeness and image of God in Christ” (64). This sets the stage for the following chapters.
Moving from a conceptual discussion of the first two chapters, Sánchez offers five models of the Spirit’s sanctifying work acknowledging the plurality of stories, situations, and contexts in which individuals and communities find themselves. The models are as follows: 1) the renewal model, which sees a cruciform life conformed to Christ in his death and resurrection; 2) the dramatic model, which finds the Christian in the midst of the battle between God and Satan; 3) the sacrificial model, being conformed to Christ’s humility as a servant; 4) the hospitality model, engagement with and love for the “other” as we welcome them among us; and 5) the devotional model, life in the Spirit as one of work, rest, and play. He encourages the reader to act creatively within these models and states that this is not an exhaustive list. I really appreciate this narrative approach taken by Sánchez, because it magnifies the Spirit’s work in the daily life of the Christian individual and community alike offering ways to talk about it giving the reader something to grasp.
In the final chapter, Sánchez discusses the sociology of spirituality in the North American context and addresses how this cruciform narrative—Christ as Spirit-bearer—of sanctification might engage it. He writes, “Sharing our stories in light of God’s story of the Spirit’s work in and through Christ offers an open invitation for neighbors to consider seeing their own lives in light of the same story” (229).
Masterfully written and illuminated by personal examples of the author, not only does Sculptor Spirit illustrate the Spirit’s sanctifying work, it also interacts with modern scholarship and offers something practical for everyday Christian life, making the book accessible to a very wide audience. Sánchez’s work is refreshing in every way, a great treasure to the pastor and lay-person with interest in the work of the Holy Spirit. It will change the way that you understand your own daily life as a Christian. As someone who always has a tall stack of books to read I’m glad that I bumped this one to the top of the list. I highly recommend that you do the same. You’ll be delighted that you did.