Book Review – Spirit of Truth and Power

This collection of papers from the Ninth Edinburgh Dogmatics Conference, published by Rutherford House, who kindly sent me a copy for review, features 12 papers on the subject of the Holy Spirit.

1. The Holy Spirit in the Old Testament – David C Searle
One of the key arguments in this is that ministries of the Spirit did not change as dramatically as some have suggested from Old to New Testament. In other words, the types of thing the Spirit is said to do in the NT he also does in the OT. The basic idea seems plausible, but it seemed more an assertion that this is the case rather than a successful proof.

2. Trinity of Life and Power: The Relevance of Trinitarian Theology in the Contemporary Age – Bruce McCormack
McCormack starts by arguing that we must come to grips with the Reality of God as he really is, and resist attempts of our own to define him (particularly from a political or pastoral perspective). We must start with the Bible, not councils. He starts to examine the Biblical evidence for the relationship between Father and Son, particularly noting the theme of the Son’s subordination to the Father, which he argues is not limited to the economy of salvation. He is concerned that, in fear of subordinationism, some have attempted to eliminate this element of subordination from their definition of the Trinity. But the Trinity is not a democracy of persons. Another interesting point he makes is that the fact that the Holy Spirit has been called the “anonymous person” of the Godhead is not necessarily a problem. In fact, the Holy Spirit wills this to be so, since he has a very self-effacing ministry, and thus “we make a mistake if we try to make the Holy Spirit an independent interest in his own right.” The discussion does get quite technical in a couple of places (e.g. on “perichoresis”), but there is some interesting stuff in here.

3. ‘And from the Son’: The Filioque Clause in East and West – Nick Needham
This paper is essentially a historical overview of the controversy between East and West over the ‘Filioque’ clause. He explains the varying positions and emphases of those in the early church, moving on to deal with the controversy over the addition of the clause itself, before an interesting section examining the diversity of opinions amongst modern protestants. Overall it is a well explained paper, but the fine details of the point under discussion can get quite confusing.

4. ‘The Spirit Moved Over the Face of the Waters’: The Holy Spirit and the Created Order – Colin Gunton
Explores various passages linking the Spirit with creation, and laments that the early church Fathers did not give us much help on the role of the Spirit in creation. He quotes Luther who says “it is the office of the Holy Spirit to make alive”. He has an interesting section on the eschatological significance of the Spirit in creation: “Wherever the Spirit is, there the true end of creation is anticipated”. Again a very learned paper which was hard to follow in places for a  theological novice such as myself. The most interesting part for me was his discussion of the Spirit and culture, and whether cultural artefacts (whether works of art or methods of farming) can be considered in some way as inspired by the Spirit.

5. The Holy Spirit in the Life of Jesus – Donald Macleod
Starting by affirming the uniqueness of Christ, Macleod then asks whether it was simply due to his divine nature supporting his human nature. He gives five good reasons why this is not the case, arguing there is overwhelming biblical evidence for the Spirit’s constant presence in the life of Jesus. He draws a helpful connection between the Spirit and the Father – it is through the Spirit that the Father ministers. He argues (as does Hawthorne in the Presence and the Power) that Jesus must have been filled with the Spirit from the womb if John was (Luke 1:15).

He goes on to discuss how Jesus was led by the Spirit, and how the Spirit gifted him for ministry and empowered him to perform miracles. He is particularly emphatic about the role of the Spirit at the cross: “[Jesus] owed his triumph entirely to the ministry of the Holy Spirit”, and points out that it was the Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead (Rom 8:11). A helpful paper that is essentially going over the same ground that Hawthorne does at greater length.

6. The Spirit and Biblical Hermeneutics – Francis Watson
Watson sets out by outlining two popular conceptions of the relationship between the Spirit and the Scriptures, both of which he rejects. The first view is that “the Holy Spirit bridges the gulf between the text and ourselves, causing what was written then to become divine speech now, addressed to us”. In other words, according to this view, you don’t worry so much about what it originally meant, you just pray for the Spirit to illuminate the text for you.
The second view he rejects is that the Spirit is associated above all with the church, and so we look to the church to lead us into an interpretation of the meaning of the Bible, and that means our understanding may change – the Spirit will again and again cause the Bible to be read differently.
The issue with both views is that they view the Spirit as a solution to some problem with the text. He turns to Acts 2 to show the inextricable link between the words of Scripture and the events of Pentecost – “The Pentecost event is interpreted by Scripture, but Scripture in turn is interpreted by the event.”

7. Proclamation in the Power of the Spirit – Timothy Ward
We have been taught to be suspicious of discourses of power, and the sermon is a prime example. Some preachers seek to avoid this by avoiding any kind of proclamations or exhortations, preferring to share, reflect and imagine. “Preaching goes as tragically astray when it muses and reflects on those matters which it should be proclaiming, as it does when it confidently proclaims what the preacher cannot know”. Ward emphasises the role of the Spirit at work on both the preacher and the congregation. The faithful biblical preacher’s task is best described as “a contemporary re-enactment of the speech act which was performed in the original authoring of the text”. It is vital that the preacher has allowed the Spirit to apply the message to their own life before preaching it.

8. Word and Spirit in Conversion – Paul Helm.
Helm begins by exploring two incompatible answers to what secures our acceptance before God – a moral justification (through infused or personally acquired righteousness), versus a forensic justification (classic Reformation doctrine). He examines the charge that forensic justification logically leads to the justification of antinomianism. He counters this with some interesting arguments from Turretin to help show that while faith alone justifies, that does not mean that faith can exist alone, apart from other virtues such as love. He argues that “faith does not contribute causally to justification, any more than does obedience. Faith is essentially receptive…”. He concludes by observing that the first view of acceptance leads to obedience motivated by fear, while the second has obedience motivated by love.

9. The Holy Spirit in the Life of the People of God – Bob Fyall
Fyall begins with the interesting observation that although Calvary and Pentecost cannot be repeated, they must be reappropriated. He discusses the role of the Spirit in various aspects of church life, and generally rejects the charismatic approaches to meeting structure and spiritual gifts. He uses Eph 5:18 to show how Spirit-filled worship entails singing and teaching. He concludes the essay with reflections on the Spirit’s role in preaching and mission.

10. Acknowledging the Paraclete: Tertullian on the Spirit – David F Wright
Wright begins by telling us that Tertullian espoused ‘New Prophecy’ (Montanism). Then follows a discussion of Tertullian’s theology of the Spirit that goes largely over my head. It is not made any easier by the fact that Wright himself concedes that Tertullian’s arguments can be complex. Of interest was the discussion of Tertullian’s belief that the Spirit could reveal new (and typically much stricter) standards of morality, and how he felt they could be protected from being duped by an evil spirit.

11. ‘God has framed unto us wings of his Spirit and Word’ Peter Martyr Vermigli on Word and Sprit – Peter Ackroyd
The Reformers generally believed that “the primary vehicle of the Spirit’s work, the normal dispensation of the grace of God, was the Word of God.” Peter Martyr was a Reformation-era pastor-scholar, well known at the time, and the first half of this paper recounts his story. Martyr had an emphasis on the Spirit in his writings. He explains the Spirit’s role in union with Christ as “The Spirit grafts the believer into Christ, and grafts his dispositions, property, sense and ‘motions’ into us.” Like Calvin and Bucer, he emphasised the Spirit as teacher. On the relationship between Word and Spirit, Martyr believed that it is the Spirit who is Christ’s agent of regeneration; but the word is the instrument of his work. He believed that study of the Scripture was not possible without the help of the Holy Spirit.

12. The Work of the Holy Spirit in Revival and Renewal – David Smith
Smith starts off by noting the postmillennial optimism of early evangelicalism. He moves on to question some of the assumptions even in Reformed circles about what the Bible teaches on revival. He points out that even in the NT we see the revival fires of Pentecost cooling somewhat. He challenges those who are optimistic about revival as to whether this prevents them facing up to the challenges of discipleship and mission in a post-Christian culture. “The confident announcement that revival is breaking out around us obviously reassures Christians who are deeply troubled by the loss of a Christian culture, and enables them to hang a ‘Business as Usual’ notice on the door of the church.” He goes on to argue that “Whatever the prospects for revival may be, the greatest priority of the churches in the Western world is surely missiological in nature, and this will involve a process of biblical reformation…” He also questions whether all that we call revival is indeed to be considered a genuine advance, citing the tragic story of Rwanda as an example. However he concludes on a more positive note, noting the rapid growth of Christianity in the southern hemisphere.

There is plenty in here that I found stimulating and interesting. However, some of the essays are quite technical and theologically dense, meaning that this will not be a particularly accessible book to those who have not already done some college level studies. Having said that, despite getting lost in a few places, I did glean a number of useful insights along the way. It is currently available for half-price – £5 on the Rutherford House website.

3 thoughts on “Book Review – Spirit of Truth and Power

  1. Mark,
    Thanks for the time you take in posting your reviews. I came to your site while looking for info on the late Gerald Hawthorne’s book The Presence and the Power. In skimming more, I became intrigued with the one reviewed here; however, the hyperlinks back to Rutherford House are no longer valid. Who was the editor of this work? Or, where you simply given the individual essays? I’d like to find a copy, if possible.
    I have Donald MacLeod’s The Person of Christ. As I read through it, I enjoyed it agreeing largely with the author until I reached a portion which asserts that the Holy Spirit indwelt the humanity of Jesus causing myself a bit of cognitive dissonance. I find this to be an unbiblical stance in view of John 10:38-39 and John 5:21-25 among others. As to the former, we could be led to believe that any individual whom the Spirit worked through to effect a miracle would be God’s Son [John 10:36-37] (as opposed to a son of God).
    As to the latter, it’s clear that Jesus Christ provided both eternal life and judgment during His earthly ministry and will also do same at the eschaton. Given that, He must have done this via His own divine nature as He couldn’t well ‘give life to whom He chose’ [5:21] by the power of the Holy Spirit instead. Otherwise, any Spirit-filled individual would have the same power and prerogative to give life to whom s/he chooses.
    In addition, it wasn’t merely the Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead as MacLeod claims. The entire Trinity was involved: Father – Acts 5:30-31; Son – John 2:19-22, 10:17-18; Spirit – Romans 1:4, 8:11; God – Acts 2:24 / 13:34-37.
    I’m not denying the presence of the Spirit within the person of Christ in some capacity; but, I find the assertions of MacLeod on this to be incorrect Biblically.

  2. hi Craig, I’ve updated the link to Rutherford house. I’d recommend reading Hawthorne’s book as well if you get the chance. I think there is good evidence that Jesus did perform his miracles by the Spirit’s power, but I also believe he had an innate authority as the Son of God, wheras any authority exercised by his followers is a delegated authority.

  3. Mark,

    Thanks for updating the link. I went to the site; but, unfortunately, I can’t get their link to order the publication to open. 🙁 But, then I’m on the other side of the pond; and I’m not sure if Rutherford would send overseas.

    I may get Hawthorne’s book as a reference. However, with all due respect, we may have to agree to disagree with respect to Jesus relying on the Holy Spirit rather than His own divine power to effect His miracles. We must concede the Word sustained the cosmos while Incarnate [Col 1:17; Heb 1:3]; so, to me, it would seem rather peculiar for Christ to fully exercise His divine powers extra carnem via the so-called extra calvinisticum, use His divine powers in executing judgment and giving eternal life while Incarnate, yet rely on the Holy Spirit to perform His other miracles. This line of thinking sets up the (hyper-)charismatics to believe they can actually exceed Jesus’ miracle workings using John 14:12 as a proof-text.

    You may find this article of interest:

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