Book Review–The Presence and the Power (Gerald Hawthorne)

I’ll start straight off by saying this is one of the best books I have read all year. On almost every page I found myself wanting to underline something, but since I had borrowed it from a friend, I couldn’t. I may have to buy my own copy just to be able to do so, although sadly it seems to be currently out of print.

In this book, Hawthorne sets out to explore the role of the Holy Spirit in the life and ministry of Jesus. He looks at how the Spirit was involved in Jesus’ conception and birth, and goes through his childhood, his baptism and temptation, his teaching and miracles, and right through to his death and resurrection. What is surprising is how few others have tackled this subject in a sustained manner. Hawthorne is a Professor of Greek, and this book is fairly academic in feel. However, his devout faith and reverence for Christ shines through.

The first chapter gives a brief introduction to who the Holy Spirit is, since the gospel writers seem to take for granted that their readers are already familiar with the person of the Holy Spirit. Hawthorne also addresses the question of who Jesus is. He makes a special point of underscoring the full humanity of Jesus, something that no orthodox Christian would deny, and yet a truth whose implications are not always fully recognised.

The central thesis of the book is that “the Holy Spirit was the divine power by which Jesus overcame his human limitations, rose above his human weakness, and won out over his human mortality”. In other words, he makes the bold claim that all that Jesus accomplished is not merely attributable to his divinity, but rather to the fact that he was a human filled with the Spirit without measure.

Lest anyone suspect him of emphasising the humanity of Christ at the expense of his unique divine nature, Hawthorne also enumerates several ways in which Jesus was unique: he was sinless, his ministry was unique, he was aware of a special relationship with God as his Father, and, most significantly, he was the pre-existent Son of God.

The bulk of the book deals with the life of Jesus in stages. First of all, a chapter deals with the conception and birth of Jesus. He argues that Jesus, like John the Baptist, was filled with the Spirit from the womb. He claims that Jesus’ humanity was comparable to that of Adam’s before the fall – free from sin but also susceptible to sin. Jesus’ sinlessness was therefore a choice, not merely a logical necessity.

Despite there being very little biblical material available, Hawthorne also explores the role of the Spirit in the boyhood and youth of Jesus. He argues that it was the Holy Spirit who was filling Jesus with wisdom, and equipping him for ministry. He reminds us that Jesus is not presented in the gospels as a superhuman child, but one who followed the normal patterns and means of growth and development.

Another chapter explores the Spirit at the baptism and temptation of Jesus. His reconstruction of the event is fascinating. Rather than assuming that Jesus set out with the expressed intention to get baptised by John and then begin his public ministry, Hawthorne suggests that as Jesus listened to John the Baptist’s sermon, he was stirred by the Spirit to respond in obedience. Furthermore, we have no reason to believe that he knew that a voice from heaven would speak to him, assuring him of his sonship, nor that he would then go into the wilderness. His Spirit baptism changed the trajectory of his life dramatically.

He points out that the voice from heaven in Luke 3:22 addresses Jesus personally. It was for his benefit. Though he was aware from the age of 12 of a special relationship with the Father, it is possibly only at this point that he learns more fully of his true identity. Or as Hawthorne puts it “Jesus’ awareness of sonship was subject to growth and development, perhaps even to a degree of uncertainty, in need of constant illumination and affirmation.”

The next chapter looks into the Spirit in the ministry of Jesus. Again, Hawthorne has many interesting suggestions in this section, including the possibility that Jesus claiming to have seen Satan fall like lightning from heaven was a prophetic vision rather than necessarily a memory from his pre-birth existence with the Father. He also makes a compelling case that even Jesus’ miracles were not performed by virtue of his divine omnipotence, but through the power of the Spirit. In addition to surveying the explicit mentions of the Spirit, Hawthorne has also gone to some lengths to find implicit evidence for the Spirit in the gospel accounts, particularly in the use of the words exousia (authority) and dynamis (power).

The final chapter surveying Jesus’ life looks at his death and resurrection. Whilst the gospels are largely silent on the Spirit’s role in these events, the rest of the New Testament is not. He looks at various scriptures including Rom 8:11, 1 Cor 6:14 and 1 Tim 3:16, exploring the role of the Spirit in raising Jesus from the dead.

A number of the arguments put forth in this book have the potential to be highly contentious. Whilst in charismatic circles the concept of Jesus performing miracles by the Spirit’s power is more commonly accepted, it certainly is not agreed with everywhere. And perhaps even more sensitive is the suggestion that Jesus had to learn who he was rather than being perpetually aware. Hawthorne deals with this first by surveying church history and highlighting a number of heretical christological views that have been rejected by the church over the ages. He warns that “in a legitimate concern to preserve at all costs the deity of Jesus Christ, many contemporary teachers of the church have followed the lead of the ancient fathers and have become de facto Docetists”.

This leads him to discuss “kenotic Christology”. The original proponents of this thesis suggested that Jesus “emptied” (Phil 2:7) himself of the divine attributes of omniscience, omnipotence and omnipresence. Hawthorne distances himself from this view, but follows Vincent Taylor in proposing a modified form of it, in which Jesus willed to renounce divine prerogatives in order to live as a human. In other words, the divine attributes of omniscience, omnipotence and omnipresence were present but not operative. He chose to do his miracles in the power of the Holy Spirit, rather than that he had no other option. Taking this view avoids the problematic conclusion that other evangelicals have come to that Jesus had some kind of dual consciousness – an omniscient, omnipresent one, and a human one.

A final chapter explores the implications of his findings for the followers of Jesus. If he is right, then Jesus set an example that we really can follow, if we too are filled with and yielded to the Spirit. The Acts of the Apostles is a book that demonstrates what is possible for ordinary people to do under the influence of the Spirit. “The Holy Spirit is God present and active in the lives of Jesus’ followers not to make life rich and comfortable for them, but to equip them to fulfil God’s mission for them in the world.”

This is a rich and thought-provoking book, and I am not yet sure how to what extent I go along with his conclusions. I would say he makes a very compelling case, and one that makes a lot of sense to me. In particular, I think this makes for a much more trinitarian christology, since it presents Jesus as living not only in close communion with his Father, but in complete dependence on the Spirit. So this book comes with a very high recommendation from me. It is not particularly long (less than 250 pages), but it took me a while to get through it since there is a lot of material to digest and ponder. I’d be very interested to hear what others who have read it think.

6 thoughts on “Book Review–The Presence and the Power (Gerald Hawthorne)

  1. Thanks for your review. After reading it, I’ll be getting the book, which would be the 2nd book I’ve gotten after having read a review on it by you 🙂

    I’m interested to read the book, but also interested to read a book on the implications of all his conclusions for Christians living at a time when Jesus is now with the Father – which is a different context from Him being on the earth ministering by the power of the Spirit. I think that would be an interesting read and more applicable for us Christians now.

  2. Great review, thanks Mark.

    Makes me want to read a copy – preferably one I own, by the sounds of it!

    I understand that Dr Hawthorne passed away recently.

  3. Thanks for the review Mark. Any idea where I can get a copy of the book for less than £20? These books seem to be like chicken’s teeth to find. 🙂

    Thanks again

  4. It’s a very good book if you can find it. My biggest complaint is a trivial one: IMO, the layout looks slightly “cheap.”

    I tracked down the book originally because I appreciate Gordon Fee’s work, and noticed in the preface to “Paul, the Spirit, and the People of God,” the mass-market version of his Pauline pneumatology, he noted its shortcoming of dealing ONLY with the Pauline corpus, and expressed his hope that it would “stand alongside other books of its kind: by Gary Burge (for John); James Shelton (for Luke-Acts); and Gerald Hawthorne (for Jesus).” I eventually managed to find all three, happily at reasonable prices. (IMO, Burge’s is the least friendly to “regular” readers, probably owing to its origin as a Ph.D. thesis directed at a scholarly audience.)

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