Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Forgotten Member of the Trinity

John D. Harvey. Anointed with the Spirit and Power: The Holy Spirit’s Empowering Presence, Explorations in Biblical Theology. Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2008. Paperback. 219 pp.

Reviewed by Ryan McGraw
The Holy Spirit has often been called the forgotten member of the Trinity. In this work, John Harvey seeks to remedy the widespread of neglect of the person and work of the Holy Spirit in Reformed circles by drawing attention to the manner in which He empowers the people of God for obedience and service. His primary assertion is: “The Holy Spirit alone has been, is today, and always will be the source of empowerment God uses to accomplish his purposes through his people” (4, 176). This book is a part of a series on Biblical Theology that aims to reach a broad audience by producing books that are simple in style, contain few footnotes, and which seek to lead readers through the entire Bible in relation to particular doctrines or books of Scripture (ix-x). Harvey’s contribution to this series is well written, clear, and practical. It is suitable both for pastors and for discussion groups among church members. His work fills a need that is particularly important in Reformed circles by demonstrating our utter dependence upon the Holy Spirit for every aspect of Christian living and service.

The author has divided his material into eight chapters. The first two address the work of the Spirit in the Old Testament in empowering Israel’s leaders and prophets. The next four chapters connect the work of the Spirit to the Person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. Christ is both the foundation for and the prototype of the work of the Holy Spirit in believers. These four chapters are particularly important, since the connection between the work of the Spirit upon the human nature of Christ and His work in the lives of believers is often neglected. The last two chapters consider the manner in which the Holy Spirit empowered the early church to fulfill its mission in the Book of Acts as well as the manner in which the New Testament epistles set forth the continued work of the Spirit in the church today. These chapters are followed by a very useful conclusion that ties together the data of the entire book and directs it to rich pastoral application.

The primary value of this work is the manner in which Harvey directs the reader to listen to the text of Scripture. Moreover, by walking through the work of the Spirit in empowering the people of God from Genesis through Revelation, readers will begin to draw remarkable parallels. For instance, the Spirit’s work in Moses, Samson, Samuel, and Ezekiel all foreshadow elements of the manner in which the Spirit equipped both John the Baptist and Jesus for their earthly ministries. The advantage of treating the work of Spirit-empowerment in a biblical theological progression is that readers will better appreciate the unity of the Spirit’s work in the entire Bible.

While this work is very useful and this reviewer recommends it highly, it contains one theological problem. On page sixty-nine, after the author asserts unambiguously that Jesus is fully divine and fully human in one person, he states that Jesus “voluntarily limited his own omniscience” as well as His “omnipotence.” This important question moves from biblical theology to systematic theology. While the Scriptures clearly assert that there were some things that Jesus did not know (Matt. 24:36), yet “limited omniscience” is a contradiction in terms. As divine, Jesus could not limit His knowledge without ceasing to be the eternal and unchangeable Second Person on the Trinity. As man, Jesus could not know all things without ceasing to be a finite creature. Therefore, we must assert that in one Person, Jesus Christ was both fully omniscient and limited in His knowledge, according to His deity and humanity respectively. This may defy our understanding, but it does better justice to the evidence of Scripture concerning the person of Christ. Ignorance would destroy His deity just as much as omniscience would abolish his humanity. Harvey does not intend in the least to derogate either nature of Christ, but his choice of language is not an adequate solution to an admittedly complex question. This illustrates the necessity of relying upon the broader distinctions of Systematic Theology in order to properly direct and limit Biblical Theology.

This book is an excellent piece of Biblical Theology on one aspect of the work of the Holy Spirit. It is my prayer that Dr. Harvey’s book would help produce a generation of pastor’s and lay people who recognize that they cannot be useful in godliness or service unless they are “anointed with the Spirit and power.”

This review first appeared in the January 2012 issue of Puritan Reformed Journal.