The Presence and the Power: The Significance of the Holy Spirit in the Life and Ministry of Jesus

Written by Gerald F. Hawthorne Reviewed By Siegfried Schatzmann

Thirty-five years after having dealt with this tantalizing subject in his MA thesis at Wheaton College, Professor Hawthorne offers his readers an expanded, more mature treatment of the Holy Spirit’s significance in Jesus’ life and ministry. The evangelical readership will welcome this sober and balanced treatment of the biblical materials pertaining to the subject, not least on account of the relative paucity of recent literary contributions addressing the relationship between Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

Hawthorne’s primary agenda is not to provide a comprehensive pneumatology, nor even a thorough study of the life of Jesus. With customary modesty he suggests instead that his goal is ‘to focus in upon and explore the relationship of the Holy Spirit to Jesus, to raise and attempt to answer the question of why it was that the Holy Spirit played such an important role in the experience of Jesus’ (p. 1). For him, the answer lies in the humanity of Jesus. Modest or not, this clearly becomes the author’s superordinate goal of The Presence and the Power, pursued more cautiously in the early chapters, but unequivocally in the later ones. Hawthorne by no means sidesteps the deity of Jesus, he affirms it clearly throughout. But the tendency among conservatives to emphasize the deity of Jesus—at the expense of his humanity—on the one hand, and the NT’s clear affirmation of both facets on the other, may have prompted him to stress the humanity of Jesus.

The chapters essentially follow the sequence provided by the gospel narrative. These are preceded by an introductory first chapter, ‘The Spirit and Jesus’, containing a largely etymological presentation of the Spirit, as well as a preliminary attempt at answering the question of who Jesus was. The answer: he was a human being in the fullest sense, albeit unique because he was the incarnate Son of God at the same time (pp. 35–37). Then follows a very thorough discussion on ‘The Spirit in the Conception and Birth of Jesus’, with the postulate that the Holy Spirit’s essential function here was ‘to produce a perfect humanity for the eternal Son of God to assume’ (p. 85). In ‘The Spirit in the Boyhood and Youth of Jesus’, Hawthorne wishes to demonstrate that the Spirit was not some sort of divine cruise control for the lad Jesus but rather that the Spirit was with him in every phase of life, filling him with wisdom and understanding, giving him guidance in the way of righteousness (p. 109), thus underscoring the necessity of the Spirit’s work in Jesus on account of his humanity.

Most of the content of ‘The Spirit at the Baptism and Temptation of Jesus’ is devoted to the former. While it is acknowledged repeatedly that Jesus was filled with the Spirit from birth, it is not clear how it can then be said that at his baptism, Jesus ‘was now filled with the Spirit as he was never filled before’ (p. 127)! Unintentionally, Hawthorne may be fuelling the fires of the Pentecostal argument of subsequence in the believer’s experience of the Spirit, especially since Jesus then becomes the model par excellence. One wishes equal attention could have been given to the significance of the Spirit in Jesus’ temptation. The chapter on ‘The Spirit in the Ministry of Jesus’ yields no new insights but rather represents the flowering of the Spirit’s significance in Jesus’ ministry.

By the author’s own admission, the gospels do not explicitly address the Holy Spirit’s role in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Hence, he draws what insights the NT offers, from the letters, especially Hebrews, with regards to Jesus’ death, and from the Pauline letters with regards to the resurrection. The discussion of the major passages is pertinent but will likely not convince everyone.

Chapter 7, ‘The Spirit as the Key to the Kenosis’, is the most tentative aspect of the presentation as a whole, yet the boldest one at the same time. In the interpretation of Philippians 2:6–11 the author aligns himself with a moderately kenotic Christology, of the sort found in Vincent Taylor’s The Person of Christ and Brian Hebblethwaite’s The Incarnation, among others. He suggests that the delicate balance in affirming both modes of Christ’s existence, human and divine, can best be maintained via the pervasive influence of the Spirit upon the human Jesus. Because the power to do mighty works was latent in himself during his humanity, Jesus was ‘truly dependent upon the Holy Spirit, not for permission to use his own power, but for the very power itself …’ (p. 218).

In the final chapter Dr Hawthorne takes on the role of the pastor, drawing out the implications of the significance of the Spirit in the life and ministry of Jesus for his followers. Yet even in this context, the author’s primary concern, namely that the Spirit’s importance in Jesus is due to his humanity, finds its most eloquent elucidation in his pastoral appeal. Pastors and theology students, even with little pre-understanding of the often detailed exegetical debate, will benefit greatly from Hawthorne’s reasoned study and derive rich dividends for life and ministry. Sadly, the book is marred by far too many typographical errors in text and notes; sad, too, that we have almost come to expect them.

Siegfried Schatzmann

Oak Hill College, London