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John R. Levison: The Holy Spirit before Christianity

John R. Levison, The Holy Spirit before Christianity (Baylor University Press, 2019)

The book consists of Acknowledgments, five chapters, thirteen excurses, varied notes, selected bibliography, and detailed indexes of subjects, ancient names, modern authors and ancient sources.

Chapter titles include: “The Emergence of the Spirit: Recasting Exodus”, “The Essence of the Spirit: Retelling Exodus”, “The Absence of the Spirit: Recalling Exodus”, “The Assurance of the Spirit: Rekindling Exodus”, and “The Significance of the Spirit: Rediscovering Exodus”. Each chapter brings a varied and deep-well resource for the study of pneumatology.

This work offers detailed, personable, opinionated, and indispensable tedious research. From his descriptions of German theologian Hans Leisagang and more to his Greek or Jewish tracing of the origins of historical pneumatology, you’ll find detailed promise of the divine presence of God. The weight of God’s glory is depicted through Israel’s birth and early years. Pillars and angels, Clouds and fire are described as leading the Israelites to outpace the Egyptians. While God’s presence is described as durable, unshakable, and reliable.

The Spirit is active now.

It is focused reading; deliberate; not a mindless read; not casual reading and genuinely fundamental tenets of the Spirit’s work.

Levison’s description of the Babylonian exile offers intriguing storylines where the Spirit is an active agent in cross-cultural contexts.  He offers rich parallels of Moses and Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Zechariah and more with concepts of the Spirit of God 1) rushing upon, 2) pouring over, and 3) resting upon individuals.

Jack Levison holds the W.J.A. Power Chair of Old Testament Interpretation and Biblical Hebrew at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University. Levison was raised in New York, attended Wheaton College, received an MA at Cambridge University, and pursued his doctoral studies at Duke University. Faculty page.

He offers a unique study of consequences regarding modern assessments of early Judaism including a discourse of NT Wright’s deep appreciation for the contributions of 2nd Temple Judaism and Shekinah Glory’s indwelling presence. He proclaims clearly, the Spirit is active now.

Levison ends this work with thirteen brief two to four page excurses. An excursus (from Latin excurrere, ‘to run out of’) is a short outbreak or narration in a work of literature. Excursuses often have little to do with subject matter discussed by the work, used to lighten or add insight to the story. He does it with brilliance.

Reviewed by Joseph S. Girdler


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Category: Biblical Studies, Spring 2023

About the Author: Joseph S. Girdler has served as Superintendent of the Kentucky Assemblies of God since 2004. His previous long-term pastorate was recognized from thousands of AGUSA congregations for achieving Top 100 status in World Missions, while his wife, Dr. Renee V. Girdler, was honored as the first woman in AG history to serve the denomination’s World Missions Board. He holds two undergraduate degrees from the University of Kentucky, a masters from Asbury Theological Seminary, and completed his doctorate of ministry at Evangel University: Assemblies of God Theological Seminary. He is the author of this two book set, Setting the Atmosphere for the Day of Worship I & II, Redemptive Missiology in Pneumatic Context, Keys to the Apostolic and Prophetic: Embracing the Authentic ~ Avoiding the Bizarre, and Revival, Racism, & Rapture: A Fireside Reflection on Culture and Times.

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