Category Archives: Books

Martin Luther, Visionary Reformer 2

In an initial post, I provided an overview of the first part of this book by Scott Hendrix.

The second part of the book is comprised of ten chapters covering the period from 1522-1546. Here the pace of the book slows a little as Hendrix explores the developments of the Reformation’s progress, and Luther’s role and responses in them. Chapters nine and ten treat the early reforms at Wittenberg, initially without Luther, and later stabilised by his presence. Luther’s reforming movement is presented as a “massive campaign of reeducation” (138), equipping the laity with sufficient theological and devotional frameworks, and knowledge so that their consciences and consequent religious practice were formed and reformed. Luther steadfastly resisted rigorist developments which either enforced reform on unwilling participants or bound their conscience with all kinds of rules. Instead he sought to liberate consciences and counter “unthinking piety.”

Nor was Luther’s concern limited to spiritual matters. He was concerned also for marriage as one of the goods of creation given by God, and for the education of children and well-run schools. In Luther’s view, God’s word and grace had given Germany an opportunity which it dare not refuse lest it fall back into misery and darkness, as had happened to the Jews, the Greeks, and now Rome and the Latins. Thus Luther’s vision included cultural as well as ecclesial renewal. It was for these reasons that Luther resisted what he considered false initiatives and directions taken by some of his own associates such Karlstadt and Müntzer. According to Hendrix, the tragedy of the Peasant’s War arose because “Müntzer had his own vision of what Christianity should be” (151)—a radical, politicised and apocalyptic vision of the kingdom of God realised in a purified Christian state. Luther believed the movement stirred by Müntzer was threatening to undo not just the Reformation but the whole social order.

Hendrix identifies 1525 as a pivotal year during which the profile of the German Reformation began to change from a populist movement driven from the bottom up, to a more formal institutional movement of renewal with momentum coming from the top down. That is, after 1525 the civil authorities began to bring the reforming energies under control. “As a rule, historians have lamented the shift from populist movement to government-authorized reforms, but for the most part Luther did not” (173): the Reformation required the support and protection of the civil authorities if it were not to be put down by its powerful opponents. Hendrix details formative ecclesiastical developments, especially the German mass, the new church order, and formal parish visitations for quality-control and oversight which together facilitated the establishing of a new form of (Evangelical) church. Luther wanted release from hierarchical control and false beliefs, but not from worship, order, faith, sacraments, and word. Evangelical worship would be “informal and spontaneous,” arising from the communal experience itself and not imposed from above. Religion would not be confined to churchgoing but would spill over into daily life. Hendrix acknowledges,

If all of that resembles the ideal monastic life of common prayer and work—although stripped of celibacy and the demand for perfection, and adapted for all “earnest Christians” outside the cloister—it is no coincidence. Luther never completely abandoned the monastic ideal. The man left the monastery, but the monastery never left the man (176).

Nonetheless, Luther’s refusal to limit the church to the “faithful,” faith-filled or fully-devoted is of a piece with his theology: we are ever sinners in need of grace. Thus Luther rejected the perfectionism of the monastery while retaining other aspects of its ideal of a life devoted to God. His Small Catechism sought to instil the fear and love of God as the manner of Christian life such that God’s people were free but did not “misuse” their freedom ((196-197).

Luther, of course, did not pursue his vision alone. Without Staupitz, Philip of Hesse, his many associates and those who took up the cause in other towns and regions, his Reformation would not have succeeded. In particular, Hendrix notes the crucial role played by Melanchthon—even in Luther’s mind:

For this I was born: to fight and take the field against mobs and devils. Therefore many of my books are stormy and war-like. I must pull out the stumps and roots, hack away at thorns and thistles, drain the swamps. I am the coarse woodsman who must blaze a new trail. But Master Philip comes neatly and quietly behind me, cultivates and plants, sows and waters with joy, according to the gifts that God has richly given him (215).

“Luther was the bushwhacker willing to reject and condemn everything contrary to the gospel and let God take care of the consequences. Melanchthon was the gardener willing to cultivate an agreement between opposing sides so long as it did not silence the gospel” (219). In the end, both were needed and both played their part.

Martin Luther, Visionary Reformer (1)

Scott Hendrix, Emeritus Professor of Reformation History at Princeton Theological Seminary, has written an articulate, detailed and highly readable story of the remarkable life of Martin Luther. Subtitled Visionary Reformer, we catch a glimpse of Hendrix’s purpose on page 115:

From this point on, freedom for Luther meant living bound to Christ, and that freedom made him much more than a protester against indulgences or a critic of the pope. Now he was a man with a larger vision of what religion could be and a mission to realize that vision by making other people free. The decisive turning point in his life was not the ninety-five theses or the Diet of Worms. It happened at the Wartburg, where he adopted a new identity and a new purpose that he believed to have come from God. It was based on a vision of what Christianity could become – a vision he was intent on pursuing.

Hendrix has divided his book into two parts. Part one, “Pathways to Reform,” covers the period 1483–1521, while part two, “Pursuit of a Vision” treats 1522–1546. The first part consists of eight chapters that introduce Luther and set him firmly in the context of late medieval Germany. Hendrix’s Luther is very much a normal (sixteenth-century) man, “neither a hero nor a villain, but a human being with both merits and faults” (xi). Drawing on a lifetime of learning, and extensively referencing German, Latin, and English-language sources, Hendrix rejects the “popular version” of the “cliché” or “myth of Luther the hero” (33, 39). Luther did join the monastery against his father’s wishes but whether solely as a result of the storm is doubtful. Although we know he posted his ninety-five theses to Archbishop Albert of Mainz, we cannot be quite as certain that he posted them on the doors of Castle Church. He was not a solitary or isolated figure, but embedded in communities and friendships which functioned as networks of support during the Reformation. Although he did struggle with his conscience, his psychological state must not be over-emphasised. His theological breakthrough was not simply the result of a monk’s desperate search for a gracious God, but also many years of intellectual and academic development, accompanied with pastoral reflection.

Hendrix details Luther’s demanding schedule in the years prior to 1517 as a cleric, professor and administrator. “When the ninety-five theses made their splash, their author was not an insignificant Augustinian monk. Rather, Brother Martin belonged to the senior management of the Reformed Congregation” (46). His initial aim was reform of the curriculum at Wittenberg University, along humanist rather than scholastic lines, emphasising the study of Scripture and the early teachers of the church, especially Augustine. But the indulgence controversy caused the reforming impulse to move beyond the university. Here a pastoral motive emerges alongside the theological; this was theology applied for the nature of the gospel and the salvation of the people was at stake. Thus theological, pastoral, hermeneutical—and financial and political—factors combined to spark the Reformation.

Although by 1517 Luther was “pushing reform on two fronts: academic theology and popular piety” (68), he was not yet the “visionary Reformer” he later became. His disputations at Heidelberg, and with Cajetan and Eck were apologetic attempts to commend his new theology. Only in 1520 did he “turn a corner,” believing that the time had come to “speak out” (89). By now he had given up on the clergy taking up the call to reform the church, and so turned to the German nobility to reform the practice of religion in Christendom. The papal bull Exsurge Domine, the edict of ex-communication, and the summons to appear before the emperor at Worms issued in Luther’s determination to recognise the authority of scripture as greater than that of the papacy. Cast out of the church, released from his monastic vows, officially an outlaw, and in hiding for his life, Luther faced, to put it mildly, an uncertain future which neither he nor his friends nor his protector could fathom (112-113). It was in this liminal space, suggests Hendrix, holed up in the Wartburg, that Luther became then a man possessed of a new identity, vision and purpose, a “visionary Reformer.”

New Barth Books

Today Reading the Gospels with Karl Barth arrived in the post, the Conference papers from the 2015 Karl Barth Conference at Princeton Theological Seminary. Contributors include Jürgen Moltmann, Richard Bauckham, Willie James Jennings, Bruce McCormack, Beverly Roberts Gaventa, and a sermon by Fleming Rutledge. The line-up looks great, and I am very much looking forward to reading the contributions by Moltmann and McCormack particularly. Moltmann’s essay addresses “Barth on the Doctrine of Predestination,” while McCormack explores “Barth on Jesus’ Cry of Dereliction.”

A week or two ago Paul Nimmo’s new introduction to Karl Barth arrived. Nimmo is a prominent younger Barth scholar, who I had the privilege of meeting briefly last year at the Barth Conference. (I also got to meet both Migliore and Guretzki at the same Conference!)

There are quite a few introductions to Barth and I look forward to seeing how he interprets Barth. His approach is to give an overview of each volume of Barth’s Dogmatics, and then provide a brief reflection. Because I am lecturing on Karl Barth this semester, I have already started reading sections of Nimmo relevant to my lectures, along with the magisterial treatment of Barth’s theology by Eberhard Busch (The Great Passion).

Finally, I have been sent a review copy of David Guretzki’s An Explorer’s Guide to Karl Barth which I need to read and review in the near future. This looks like a very different kind of introduction; Guretzki appears to have written for the novice approaching Barth for the first time, and it will be fun to read his book alongside the more formal treatments by Nimmo and Busch.

I will post reviews on this site in time…

History by the Earful

A couple of months ago I purchased two new audio books to listen to while cycling. Often, while cycling, I listen to novels: they do not seem to demand as much concentration. Listening to non-fiction is harder, and I seem only to get a portion of what I am hearing.

The first of the books is Peter Frankopan’s The Silk Roads: A New History of the World. The sub-title indicates the bold, perhaps grandiose, vision of the book. Of course it is impossible to write a complete history of the world; that would be beyond any possible scholarly capacity.  Frankopan, however, has achieved much of what he has set out to do.

Frankopan argues that Asia and the Middle East constitute the “heart of the world,” and that major trading cities were strung across this region, across “the spine of Asia,” like a string of pearls. These cities became centres of mercantile activity from ancient eras to the present, and indeed, the world as a whole is pivoting back to this region as it once more fulfils its role (destiny?) as “the heart of the world.”

Frankopan’s history is deeply fascinating and somewhat depressing. He manages to include enormous detail and great sweeps and movements of history as he exploits the imagery of the “silk road.” The origin of the term refers, of course, to the trade routes linking China to the west so that silk production in the former might find its way to the latter. In Frankopan’s hands, the silk roads become the “road to heaven” (the crusades) and the “road to hell” (the Black Death or the plagues). He speaks of the “slave road,” and the “road to the Christian east;” the roads of furs, gold, silver, and black gold. The roads to compromise, genocide, and super-power rivalry; the roads of catastrophe and tragedy.

There is much in the book to inform Christian interest in church history, though Frankopan seems to regard religion as a human capacity. His treatment of the modern world, as expected, is more detailed than that of the ancient world. The British are portrayed as a particularly wicked empire, followed closely by the Americans, though Hitler is worst of all, simply and utterly evil. In contrast to the British, other brutal tyrants of history such as Genghis Khan seem almost tame by comparison. But perhaps I missed some of Frankopan’s nuance, due to the cycling.

So why was it somewhat depressing? Because the story is one of warfare, conquest, exploitation, bloodshed, and tyranny, and all this based on economics and the desire for power or glory. While trade has certainly opened up the world and brought its varied peoples into contact and communication with one another, it has also opened doorways to violent military conflicts that have devastated entire peoples and regions.

As I listened I was glad for relatively recent developments in international relations and law which serve to constrain some of these worst impulses, though obviously not entirely. I was also very aware that the privilege I enjoy as a member of a first-world society has been funded at least in part by injustice in previous generations and centuries.

Is there hope that the future might be different from the past? Might new systems and mechanisms of trade and development emerge that somehow privilege the under-developed nations and allow them to space to prosper, even if “economic growth” and “standards of living” in the wealthier countries do not continue to grow at the rates we seem to desire? Might warfare and violence be constrained, and its devastating impact on civilian populations (especially children) reduced? Can the international community find better ways of relating than via stand-off and conflict?

I am not overly optimistic about this. It seems humanity is fatally incapable of learning that the way of hubris and greed leads inevitably to destruction, both for others and ultimately, for oneself. Perhaps works like Frankopan’s will help stimulate deeper reflection across many constituencies, and so result in new movements towards peace and justice. Such movements are welcome and are to be encouraged.

In the end, however, I find I hope most in the eschatological and apocalyptic vision of the New Testament: that is, I hope for the return of Jesus Christ and the establishing of the kingdom of God. As Christians, it is this in which we hope, this that we are to image now in our life together, and this that we are to work toward.

I found this a very worthwhile book, one I will listen to again. I have also bought a Kindle edition and hope one day to read it as well. I can recommend it.

Credo (A Review)

St Bega's Church
St Bega’s Church

This is the only novel I have read in over twelve months—a very sad state of affairs! I began it last year and finished it a couple of weeks ago. I have managed to listen to a number of novels however, so it hasn’t been a complete withdrawal from the world of fiction.

Melvyn Bragg was labelled by The Times as a “novelist, television presenter, and arts doyen.” He has led a quite public life in the UK and was made a peer, Lord Bragg, in the 1990s. This is the first novel I have read by Bragg, though I have another on the shelf. The story-telling in this novel is quite good and the style, while neither riveting nor overly-memorable, does its duty of maintaining sufficient interest to keep the narrative moving.

Credo is a large work, over 750 pages, telling the story of Bega, a young Irish princess who becomes a nun at Whitby Abbey in the mid-seventh century, and establishes her own convent shortly afterwards. Based faintly on historical events, characters and writings, Bragg has imagined how things might have been, drawing especially on the work of Bede the Venerable, who features in the book as a child. The story follows the life and love, the faith and service, prayer and miracles, struggles and triumphs of Bega in a world dominated by political ambitions, warfare, and ecclesiastical factions (the Roman church and the Celts) striving for their own versions of Christianity.

The portrayal of the faith of these early British Christians was interesting. Bragg presents them as dedicated and devout, and in their pre-scientific culture, credulous, even superstitious. Their asceticism and their focus on prayer is emphasised while the presence and influence of the Scriptures is peripheral. Bega is shown as specially marked out and gifted by God with special grace and powers, though her exceptional humility keeps her from any self-aggrandisement.

The relationship between Bega the Christian leader and Reggiani a local pagan wise woman and healer is explored, with Bega often—from a modern perspective at least—appearing backward and ill-informed. Yet her faith and faithful prayer triumphs in the midst of much adversity, suffering, and self-abasement.

CredoThe historical record of Bega is slight. In an afterword Bragg notes that she “hovers between the historical and the mythic,” although traces of her life still exist in place names, and a tiny lakeside church by Bassenthwaite in the Lakes District named St Bega’s (752, 756f.). She is said to have inspired miracles until about 1300.

I had never heard of her, although I have known of and visited the abbey at Whitby, know the story of Hild, and am aware of the important synod held there in the mid-seventh century. Bragg brings these events and their personalities to vivid life, though to what extent the portrayal is an accurate reflection of the reality, I am not sure.

Reading this book has kindled a desire to read—sometime—Bede’s history of the English church, and perhaps other works of history to learn more of these faithful Celtic Christians, and the extraordinary devotion and service they appear to have shown. Thus I have found the book worth reading, and not simply for a fascinating and enjoyable story.

Strange Glory – Reflections

Strange GloryWhen I am on my bike or on the train or doing some housework, I often listen to audio books. Mostly I have listened to fiction, but I recently began listening to other genres, including this wonderful biography by Charles Marsh: Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (New York: Knopf, 2014), 528pp.

I cannot write a review of the book because listening, especially when doing something else, means I do not give the book my undivided attention. Nor can I provide page numbers or citations. Yet I thoroughly enjoyed this biography and intend some time to read the book itself.

So what did I enjoy? Strange Glory was well written and beautifully read by Paul Hecht. It covered the whole life of Bonhoeffer with a great deal of detail, insight and connection. It presented Bonhoeffer as a complicated human being, brilliant and needy, a member of the privileged elite with a great concern for the common man. It was theologically rich and informed, not compromising the depth of Bonhoeffer’s thought in the telling of his story. It relied extensively on primary texts, especially the letters and journals of Bonhoeffer himself. It provided an entrée into Bonhoeffer’s personal thought and relationships, his prejudices and commitments, his loves and affections, his misgivings, self-doubts (at times) and determinations. It charted his development as a person, churchman and theologian across the course of his life. It explored his dedication to the ethical character of the Christian life without reducing Christianity to ethics.


Much discussion surrounding Marsh’s book concerns the author’s portrayal of Bonhoeffer as gay, as in love with his friend, confidante and confessor Eberhard Bethge. He does not assert that the two friends had a sexual relationship, but that Bonhoeffer, at least, was in love. Marsh does provide many details to support his case, though whether his argument is convincing is disputed amongst reviewers. I am not sufficiently acquainted with Bonhoeffer to make a firm determination on the matter—is anyone?—but I am not wholly convinced by Marsh. In the end, the issue is peripheral and should not detract from the major aspects of his story.

Far more important in my estimation, is the portrayal of Bonhoeffer as a man of great passion and compassion in addition to his penetrating intellect. Despite his elitism and eccentricities, he loved those he ministered to, struggled to find his place in the world of German Christendom, and was amongst the first to understand that the Nazi oppression of the Jews was a betrayal of the gospel. His life exemplified both the “cost of discipleship” as well as a fulsome embrace of the delights of the world and culture. One of the most interesting aspects of the story for me, and something I want and need to return to, was the way that Marsh was able to correlate Bonhoeffer’s Finkenwalde “experiment” with the theological development that occurred in the prison years. Bonhoeffer’s “religionless Christianity” constituted new growth in the field of his thought, but not disjunction with that which preceded it.

Anyone interested in Bonhoeffer’s life and theology will gain much benefit from this extensively researched biography. Formal reviews of the book can be found at First Things, the Gospel Coalition, the New York Times, and the usual theological journals.

Baptized in the Spirit (Review)

Baptized in the SpiritMacchia, Frank D., Baptized in the Spirit:
A Global Pentecostal Theology

(Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006), 296pp.
ISBN: 13: 978-0-310-25236-8

Frank Macchia argues that although the Pentecostal emphasis on the Baptism with the Holy Spirit has been marginalised in recent Pentecostal theological reflection, it remains “the crown jewel of Pentecostal distinctives” (20). Nevertheless Pentecostal articulation of the doctrine has remained too narrow, disconnected from the broader contexts of theological and ecumenical reflection. Macchia aims, therefore, to expand the parameters of the doctrine, and to use the biblical metaphor as a lens through which to understand the broader pneumatological vision of Scripture.

Baptized in the Spirit is not a systematic theology in the proper sense of the term, nor an examination of the theology of the Pentecostal movements. Rather, it engages with particular theological loci using Spirit baptism as a starting point and organising motif. The first two chapters provide an orientation and rationale for the study. Macchia identifies four primary reasons for the marginalisation of the doctrine in recent Pentecostal theology. He affirms the Pentecostal desire for the pneumatological renewal of the church, and the understanding of Spirit baptism as an experiential, empowering reality in the lives of individual Christians and churches.

Macchia is clear, however, that Spirit baptism is much more than a singular event in these lives and churches. In its biblical and theological contexts Spirit baptism is a richly textured concept with trinitarian and eschatological dimensions. It refers to the original outpouring of the Spirit by the ascended Spirit-baptizer on the day of Pentecost, by which the triune God redeems a lost world, entering into fellowship and solidarity with it. It refers also to the final eschatological outpouring in which the Spirit is poured out upon all flesh such that the renewed cosmos becomes the dwelling place of God. It is the work of divine grace preceding water baptism that opens and prepares a human life for the reality of God. It speaks, too, of ongoing and subsequent experiences of the Spirit’s presence and power in the lives of individual Christians and churches. Macchia explores these aspects of Spirit baptism in the following chapters, which address Spirit baptism in relation to Christian initiation, Spirit baptism in trinitarian perspective, and Spirit-baptised ecclesiology.

Perhaps the most significant move Macchia makes is to link Spirit baptism with the idea of the kingdom of God, thus providing the doctrine with a powerful eschatological orientation. Just as the metaphor of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit fills out the concept of the kingdom of God, so the idea of the kingdom extends the vision and function of Spirit baptism. Ultimately, the two concepts are co-extensive for Macchia, with the character of the kingdom being understood in christological and pneumatological terms.

Decisively inaugurated in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, the kingdom of God becomes a dynamic within history through the outpouring of the Spirit that is directed toward the divine indwelling of all of creation so that all things might be conformed to Christ’s image. … This dynamism has its roots in the fact that the kingdom has to do, not with a place, but rather with life, the life of the Spirit of God (Matt. 12:28; Rom. 14:17), opening up the creation to new possibilities of renewal and hope. The life of the kingdom is the life of the Spirit in which God’s reign actively conquers the dark forces and liberates lives to new hope. It is thus not only a divine attribute but the participation of the creature by God’s grace in the divine nature. Accordingly, it is not primarily about religion but about a life in God, filled with the fruit of the Spirit and dedicated to God’s righteousness on earth (97).

Another significant move concerns Macchia’s understanding of the nature of Spirit baptism, which he characterises as God’s self-gift of all-embracing love.

All of the fractures that have plagued the Pentecostal theology of Spirit baptism can be healed ultimately by an understanding of love as the substance of life in the Spirit, love that fills us to overflowing as a purgative, empowering, eschatological gift of communion and new life (260, emended slightly).

Spirit-baptism is fundamentally a relational event which issues in the creation of the church as a new community with renewed human sociality. Indeed, the Spirit is “the ecclesial Spirit” and Spirit baptism is baptism into an ecclesial dynamic (167). The church is to echo and embody the relationality and open hospitality of the holy Trinity.

The Spirit is the Spirit of communion. Spirit baptism implies communion. This is why it leads to a shared love, a shared meal, a shared mission, and the proliferation/enhancement of an interactive charismatic life. Spirit baptism thus implies a relationship of unity between the Lord and the church that is not fundamentally one of identity but rather communion. … Spirit baptism has a relational structure that has communion at its essence, the communion of self-giving love (156-157, 160).

Macchia makes the implications of this quite clear:

The self-giving God of Spirit baptism produces a self-giving people in mission. The God who seeks to save the lost produces a people who do the same. To love God is to be shaped by that love so as to share its affections and passions (264).

The love which shapes the life of the Spirit-baptised includes both love for God and love for others. Perhaps pre-eminently, it is an experience of the love that God has for us: “the love of God is poured out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit” (Romans 5:5)—a verse cited by Macchia more often than any other, including Matthew 12:28, 1 Corinthians 12:13, Acts 1:8 or Acts 2:4.

This focus on Spirit-baptism in terms of divine love can save the Pentecostal church from forms of triumphalism that neglect the reality of suffering and the necessity of solidarity with and ministry on behalf of those who suffer. The power with which the church is endued is the power of love manifest and made known in the suffering love of Christ. “Spirit baptism as an experience of empowerment is not just renewed energy to do things for God. It is rather the power of self-transcending, self-giving love” (281). The tongues of Pentecost were “a broken speech for a broken body of Christ till perfection comes” (281). Understood in terms of love, Spirit-baptism can become an ongoing and repeated experience in which believers are caught up ever and again into the love of God. If this understanding is correct, then Spirit-baptism may also function as a continual source of renewal for the church.

In my estimation Macchia has successfully expanded the boundaries and understanding of Pentecostalism’s “crown jewel,” and in so doing has made a welcome contribution to Pentecostal and ecumenical theology. While I am not yet convinced that the biblical metaphor of Spirit baptism can function as the organising principle of a comprehensive systematic theology, Macchia has demonstrated that it may shine new light on old doctrines.

Macchia’s Pentecostal roots are clearly displayed in the biblical orientation of his work; hardly a paragraph goes by without a biblical reference. Nevertheless, his most prominent interlocutors are not other Pentecostals (although they are not ignored), but Moltmann, Volf, Küng, and documents of ecumenical consultations. His work represents a considered attempt to draw Pentecostal theology from the margins toward the centre of the ecumenical theological enterprise. In the process some aspects of the classical Pentecostal doctrine are sacrificed. There is no discussion of the gift of tongues as a devotional practice, let alone as “the initial evidence” (though see pp. 212 and 281), although it does symbolise the unity of the church in the midst of its increasing diversification. Whereas classic Pentecostals insist that the Baptism with the Holy Spirit is separate from and subsequent to conversion, Macchia insists that no separation is possible, although he does keep a form of subsequence, whether in terms of the believer’s experience of the Spirit’s presence, or as ongoing experiences of the Spirit’s “coming” throughout the Christian life. It is surely no accident that the final climatic section of the book is titled “Spirit Baptism as Love’s ‘Second Conversion’” (280).

I do not want us to lose our emphasis on the experience of the baptism in the Holy Spirit as something that Christians should expect in the life of faith at some point during or after their acceptance of Christ as Lord and as an ongoing experience of charismatic enrichment. The experience of the baptism in the Holy Spirit can be a renewal of faith, hope, and love as well as an enhancement of power for mission. It is an enhancement of our conversion to Christ but also a “second conversion” that turns us in Christ’s love toward the world in prayer for its renewal and in our participation in God’s mission. … The Pentecostals ask us to experience a foretaste of that glory in the here and now as a force for renewal in the Christian life and the life of the church. I think we should listen (282, original emphasis).

Baptized in the Spirit 7 (Frank Macchia)

Baptized in the SpiritChapter Six: The Spirit-Baptized Life

Macchia’s final chapter provides his overarching definition of the Baptism with the Holy Spirit: it is a baptism into divine love (258). Indeed, the climatic section of the whole work is “Spirit Baptism as Love’s ‘Second Coversion’” (280).

All of the fractures that have plagued the Pentecostal theology of Spirit baptism can be healed ultimately by an understanding of love as the substance of life in the Spirit, love that fills us to overflowing as a purgative, empowering, eschatological gift of communion and new life (260, emended slightly).

In Spirit-baptism God does not simply give us something or some spiritual gift or benefit; God gives himself. Spirit-baptism is God’s self-gift as all-embracing love. The transcendent God is also personal and communicative. Just as the God of Jesus Christ gave without reservation in the incarnation, so at Pentecost God has given all that God is.

The God of Pentecost self-imparts in abundance and limitless expanse in witness to Christ, reaching out to all flesh in forces of liberation, reconciliation, and communion. What is self-imparted is divine love, a love that bears all things, including our sin, sorrow, and death. The God of Spirit baptism is the “crucified God” (262).

Macchia makes the implications of this quite clear:

The self-giving God of Spirit baptism produces a self-giving people in mission. The God who seeks to save the lost produces a people who do the same. To love God is to be shaped by that love so as to share its affections and passions (264).

The love which shapes the life of the Spirit-baptised includes both love for God and love for others. Perhaps pre-eminently, it is a transforming experience of the love that God has for us: “the love of God is poured out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit” (Romans 5:5)—a verse cited by Macchia more often than any other, including Matthew 12:28, 1 Corinthians 12:13, Acts 1:8 or Acts 2:4.

This focus on Spirit-baptism in terms of divine love can save the Pentecostal church from forms of triumphalism that neglect the reality of suffering and the necessity of solidarity with and ministry on behalf of those who suffer. The power with which the church is endued is the power of love manifest and made known in the suffering love of Christ. “Spirit baptism as an experience of empowerment is not just renewed energy to do things for God. It is rather the power of self-transcending, self-giving love” (281). The tongues of Pentecost were “a broken speech for a broken body of Christ till perfection comes” (281). Understood in terms of love, Spirit-baptism can become an ongoing and repeated experience in which believers are caught up ever and again into the love of God. If this understanding is correct, then Spirit-baptism may also function as a continual source of renewal for the church.

Christianity Today’s Book of the Year, 2017

Fleming RutledgeChristianity Today have nominated Fleming Rutledge’s The Crucifixion as 2017 Book of the Year. 

“Fleming Rutledge has always had a reputation for bold, relentlessly scriptural, and Cross-centered preaching. In this book, the work of a lifetime, she pulls back the lid on the deep well of exegetical, theological, and spiritual reflection that has nourished her ministry. If previous generations of evangelicals looked to John Stott’s The Cross of Christ as their definitive work on Christ’s atoning work, I predict future generations of evangelicals will return again and again, in the same way, to The Crucifixion. This book is a classic in the making, one that will go on nurturing gospel-rich preaching for decades to come.” —Wesley Hill, assistant professor of biblical studies, Trinity School for Ministry

An excerpt from the book:

It makes many people queasy nowadays to talk about the wrath of God, but there can be no turning away from this prominent biblical theme. Oppressed peoples from around the world have been empowered by the scriptural picture of a God who is angered by injustice and unrighteousness. If we are resistant to the idea of the wrath of God, we might pause to reflect the next time we are outraged about something—about our property values being threatened, or our children’s educational opportunities being limited, or our tax breaks being eliminated. All of us are capable of anger about something. God’s anger, however, is pure. It does not have the maintenance of privilege as its object but goes out on behalf of those who have no privileges. The wrath of God is not an emotion that flares up from time to time, as though God has temper tantrums. It is a way of describing his absolute enmity against all wrong and his coming to set matters right….

Where is the outrage? It is God’s own; it is the wrath of God against all that stands against his redemptive purpose. It is not an emotion; it is God’s righteous activity in setting right what is wrong. It is God’s intervention on behalf of those who cannot help themselves.

Baptized in the Spirit 6 (Frank Macchia)

Baptized in the SpiritHaving outlined his approach to ecclesiology, Macchia continues his discussion by considering three classic biblical metaphors for the church in their relation to Spirit-baptism: the church as the people of God, the body of Christ, and the temple of the Holy Spirit. The Baptism with the Holy Spirit serves to distinguish the old and the new people of God, forms the church as the body (and bride) of Christ, and continually adds new members to it. The Spirit-filled body and temple is a missional entity, testifying in the world to an alternate—eschatological—reality.

The Spirit-filled temple reaches in priestly ministry and prophetic witness for the four corners of the earth in order to foreshadow the coming new creation as the final dwelling place of God. … The church as the temple of the Spirit becomes the harbinger of the sanctification of creation into the very image of Christ as God’s dwelling place to the glory of God (204).

Turning from the classic metaphors to the creedal marks of the church, Macchia identifies a variety of ‘marks’ which have been used by various groups in Christian history to describe the nature and activity of the church. He suggests that all these various marks are mutually supporting and informing lenses through which the classical marks—the church as “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic”—have continuing relevance. Macchia views the marks as describing the eschatological people of God, and therefore as a vision to be pursued and embodied by the church in the present, in discipleship, service, and witness.

The classic marks are not replaced by these other ‘marks’ but are qualified and read through these others as lenses. The marks as eschatological gifts of the Spirit bestowed by Christ are also goals in which we are constantly to be renewed and toward which we strive (209).

Understanding the marks in the light of Spirit-baptism provides interesting insight into the nature of the church. The unity of the church is not uniformity or the formation of one “world-church,” but communion in the midst of an increasingly diversifying plurality of Christian experience and expression, though within a common confession. The tongues of Pentecost bear witness to this dynamism, so that “the unity of Pentecost is thus not abstract and absolute but rather concrete and pluralistic” (218). This is a unity that “respects and fulfills the scattering and diversification of peoples from Babel. Otherness is not denied but embraced in this differentiated and complex unity of the church at Pentecost” (218). Thus the church embraces the tensions of diversity, respecting others and avoiding uniformity or conformity.

The holiness of the church is secured by the Holy Spirit who mightily indwells it as the presence of a holy God who transforms his people. The church is sanctified through the gospel, its members through their incorporation into the holy community, and by being set apart for a holy task. They are continually being transformed as they live in accordance with Word, Spirit and the community.

Macchia understands catholicity in terms of “fullness” rather than universality, and discusses the term in a sense analogous to his discussion of unity. The Spirit blesses the church with a rich variety of spiritual, historical, denominational, and cultural gifts, no one group or church being the true fullness all on its own. Here Macchia also discusses the ecumenical challenge, as well as what he calls the “Catholic claim.”

We cannot discuss catholicity in avoidance of this Catholic claim. It must be taken seriously. We must ask whether or not we are guilty of gazing so intently on the pneumatological constitution and eschatological fulfillment of catholicity in the new creation that we are blind to the christological institution of the church and its historic continuity as the visible body of the faithful. I believe that Küng is right that there is historical validity to the “mother church” idea. The Roman Catholic Church has a certain “parental” role in the family tree of the Christian church in the world (227).

He continues, however:

Suffice it to say here that the “mother” Catholic Church belongs herself to a heritage in the outpouring of the Spirit to which she is as accountable as any of us and on which she can, in my view, lay no privileged claim. We as her children and grandchildren respect her role in history in passing on to us a precious heritage in the form of witness. But our reception of this witness draws us to the same source from which she has received it and must continue to receive it. There are thus limits to how far one can stretch the metaphor of her maternal role in relation to us (228, original emphasis).

A Spirit-baptized view of apostolicity understands it in terms of leadership and mission. Apostolic succession is a characteristic of the whole church and not simply one office in it. “If Pentecostalism is anything,” says Macchia, “it is ‘apostolic’ by intention. Its original mission was dedicated to the ‘apostolic faith,’ and many Pentecostal churches around the world since then have raised the banner of ‘apostolic’ quite high” (229). The whole church shares the original faith, experience and mission of the earliest apostles and the churches they founded (230). Just as the Spirit led and gifted the original churches, so the Spirit continues to supply the church with guidance and gifts for its contemporary mission.

Macchia concludes his ecclesiological reflections with consideration of the sacraments, and “marks” more specifically associated with the Pentecostal churches—charismatic fullness and preaching. Sacraments and spiritual gifts are means by which the Spirit’s gracious presence is mediated to and experienced in the church and the world. Water baptism can only be understood in relation to Spirit-baptism: the two are inseparable, even if in one’s experience, one is not conscious of this relation (249). Macchia thus maintains the unity of Spirit and water baptism, while still allowing space for distinction between the two in terms of one’s experience. So, too, the heart of the sacramental meal is the epiclesis in which the Spirit’s presence and work in invoked. Too often, however, the liturgy “does not linger over this. It does not wait for this to happen” (253). Macchia therefore argues for a more interactive liturgy whereby participants are encouraged to “open up to deeper experiences of divine infilling than they might be prone to have if sitting in isolation on a pew” (254).

We should shift the focus from the transformation of the elements to Christ’s participation by the Spirit in the communal act and our communion with him and one another by means of the same Spirit (255).