A few months back, I read two books on the topic of pneumatology. Pneumatology deals with the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. As a charismatic, I guess one would expect that I would regularly delve into books on the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. And I guess I do, but I’m not obsessed with such books. And I even have books from those in a more cessationist, reformed camp, and I have learned some good things from them as well.
My biggest struggle is when Christians claim to have a pneumatology, but then leave it to black ink on white paper rather than understanding the importance of the personality and reality of the third person of the Trinity in our everyday lives. I don’t want to say that arrogantly, as if I got it all figured out. I’m a thinker, a teacher, a theologian (or sorts). And so I can easily make my charismatic understanding stick to paper (or Word document on my laptop) and not walk it out. So I challenge myself as well when reading, writing and preaching on these things.
But, yes, I am a charismatic. That is a word full of baggage, as many other words of Christianity carry a negative connotation. Some of my charismatic brothers and sisters (if they are even brothers and sisters) have ruined it for me and others. I spend so much time explaining what I don’t mean and breaking down misunderstandings rather than addressing what I do mean in regards to particular pneumatological topics.
As a charismatic I believe that the baptism, or initial filling, of the Spirit could be a second experience of the Spirit for empowering for service. It doesn’t have to be, but it might be. I don’t base this solely on experience, though we need to recognise experience does shape our biblical and theological understanding. But I look to ground my theology in the Scripture. That is our helpful (or more than helpful) starting place. Also, as a side note, I don’t believe tongues is the evidence of the reception of the baptism of the Spirit. Again, it could be, as for some in Acts it was. But for others it wasn’t.
But on to the books I recently finished…
The first is entitled The Holy Spirit and Spiritual Gifts: In the New Testament Church and Today by Max Turner. Turner is professor of New Testament Studies at London School of Theology. Outside of maybe Gordon Fee’s God’s Empowering Presence, this book might be one of the greatest academic works on pneumatology, at least that I have dipped into.
The text is 348 pages and covers a wide variety of topics on New Testament pneumatology. Turner is a continuationist, but probably more neo-charismatic, in that he believes that the baptism of the Spirit is received by all at conversion rather than seeing it as a possible second reception of the Spirit.
In the first chapter, Turner deals with some Old Testament and Intertestamental understandings of the Spirit. He shows that by the intertestamental times, the Spirit began to mainly be recognised as the ‘Spirit of prophecy’. And, interestingly enough, this is the emphasis of Luke in Acts.
Turner then moves into the Synoptics, Acts and then a Johannine understanding of the Spirit. I really enjoyed reading his collection of thoughts on the enigmatic passage of John 20:22:
And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
He looks at whether or not this was a real, or full, reception of the Spirit, considering all the varying views out there. From his understanding, the passage should be understood within John’s Gospel as ‘the climax in a whole process of life-giving experiences of the Spirit-and-word,’ which is an extension from their earliest encounter with Jesus as ‘the one whose revelatory wisdom is Spirit and life’ (as seen in John 6:63). Yet, John still expects a ‘full’ coming of the Spirit to replace Jesus once He is exalted to the Father’s right hand (which would come about in Acts).
He, then, moves on to look at the Spirit in the Pauline texts, specifically showing how the Spirit is seen as the Spirit of the new covenant and Israel’s renewal. With the giving of the Spirit, there was an emphasis that Israel had been restored and renewed by God. Turner also considers how, with the giving of the Spirit, we now see the major eschatological tension of this age between the already and the not yet.
Chapter 11 has a very interesting thoughts as Turner looks to give biblical and theological evidence of the personal deity of the Holy Spirit. Most who deny the personal deity of the Spirit (Judaism, cults) would say that the Spirit is actually an extension of the Father’s own personhood, not a distinct person Himself. For when the Spirit acts, it is the Father Himself acting, because it is His Spirit.
Turner includes some helpful discussion on this topic, of which here are a few words:
‘Indeed, the “sending” of the Spirit by the Son “from the Father” (John 15:26) itself implies some kind of differentiation of the Spirit from the Father.’ (p173)
His point is that Jesus is the actual one who gives and pours out the Spirit. This shows that the Spirit is connected to not only the Father, but also the Son. And such is true when we read Acts 16:6-7; Galatians 4:6; and Philippians 1:19. I thought this was insightful in showing the distinct personality and deity of the Spirit.
Part 2 of the book then spends time considering the ‘charismatic’ giftings of the Spirit, mainly those from 1 Corinthians 12. Chapter 16 specifically deals with some cessationist arguments. Cessationism is the teaching that certain gifts of the Spirit, especially those in 1 Corinthians 12, were meant to cease once the full revelation of the canon of Scripture was completed by the first apostles and their associates.
Specifically, Max Turner connects most of the modern arguments for cessationism as being initially formulated in two of B.B. Warfield’s most influential works: Counterfeit Miracles and The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible.
With regards to healings, here are some of Turner’s summary thoughts after considering some of the cessationist arguments in details:
‘That miracles were thought to attest God’s messengers need not be doubted; but that that was their prime, if not exclusive, purpose was in no way demonstrated by Warfield (nor by his cessationsist successors).’ (p283)
‘As we have seen (Ch. 14), nothing in the New Testament suggests that healings would cease, and Warfield’s attempt to restrict their function to apostolic accreditation is baseless and reductionist. For the New Testament writers, the healings were not externally attesting signs, but part of the scope of the salvation announced, which reached beyond the merely spiritual to the psychological and physical.’ (p285)
And with regards to prophecy and tongues, Turner concludes:
‘In Chapters 12-13 above we have argued that prophecy and tongues had no special relationship to apostolicity, inscripturation or authentication of the gospel in Paul. They were enjoyed for the other benefits they brought the church, corporately and individually, including the revealing of God’s specific insight, judgement or guidance on questions Scripture could not address (e.g. the diagnostic prophecies of Rev. 2-3, each specific to the circumstances of a single congregation), enhancing private prayer, etc.’ (p289)
So I do believe Turner’s arguments are developed quite well in showing how cessationist theology falls short.
As I stated, I believe the baptism of the Spirit can be a second reception for empowering for service, whereas Turner believes all is received at conversion. When looking at his words on this topic, my main problem is that I don’t believe he faithfully considered all of the passages in Acts, especially Acts 19 and the Ephesians disciples. I believe the disciples in Acts 19:1-7 were already Christian converts, but Turner saw otherwise, saying that they were ‘almost Christians’ (p46).
My reasons for believing the Ephesian disciples were true believers:
1) For starters, one interesting thing to note is that Luke uses the words disciple or disciples exactly 30 times throughout the book of Acts, one of those times being in 19:1. Even more, in all of the other 29 times the word is used, the context is definitely clear that Luke is speaking of true Christian disciples. Of course, it is possible that, in this one instance, Luke is not referring to true believers. But knowing he consistently uses the word as a positive affirmation of true disciples, it is highly likely he has done the same in describing these twelve men in Ephesus.
2) Secondly, here we have an example of our chapter and verse divisions not being helpful in seeing the larger context of Scripture. The whole of Acts 19 is actually connected to the last five verses of Acts 18 where we learn about a certain man by the name of Apollos:
24 Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures. 25 He had been instructed in the way of the Lord. And being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. 26 He began to speak boldly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him and explained to him the way of God more accurately. 27 And when he wished to cross to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him. When he arrived, he greatly helped those who through grace had believed, 28 for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus. (Acts 18:24-28)
We see that Apollos had settled, at least for a time, in the city of Ephesus, which was the residence of the twelve ‘disciples’ of Acts 19. Concerning Apollos, we read that he was:
- Competent in the Scriptures
- Instructed in the way of the Lord
- Fervent in spirit
- Taught accurately the things concerning Jesus
But the problem is that he only knew the baptism of John (that is, John the Baptist). Therefore, Priscilla and Aquila were very helpful in the life of Apollos, becoming mentors to him in the faith. We read that they ‘explained to him the way of God more accurately’ (18:25). Still, we never read that this was Apollos’ conversion. He was already converted and was a true believer. True, we would probably expect that Priscilla and Aquila would have seen him ‘baptised into the name of Jesus’ (an expression used frequently in Acts – 2:38; 8:16; 10:48; 19:5). But this did not negate that he was already a true Christian disciple.
3) Therefore, keeping this in mind, we return to the twelve men of Acts 19:1-7. Knowing Apollos’ ministry in Ephesus, it is most likely that these twelve were disciples of Apollos. Again, the argument would arise that this is the problem – they were disciples of Apollos and not Christ. But such an argument does not stand when we consider that, in the book of Acts, Luke refers to a group as ‘disciples’ of Paul (see Acts 9:25). Yet we can only expect that they were also true believers.
So, here is an example of a delayed reception of the Spirit for empowering for service, which was Luke’s emphasis in regards to receiving the Spirit. I believe these 12 disciples were truly believers who later on received the initial filling of the Spirit for empowered service.
Most cessationists will argue that Cornelius and his household were the first converts to Christ, thus with their extreme external reception of the Spirit as part of fulfilling the expansion of the gospel to the Gentiles (‘ends of the earth’), there should be no expectation of such again. The problem with such an argument is that Cornelius and his household were not the first Gentile believers. The Ethiopian eunuch was in Acts 8. And, here in Acts 19, we find another external confirmation of the reception of the Spirit by Gentiles.
So, this is where I would disagree with Max Turner. I believe the baptism of the Spirit can come at salvation, but it might not. That is my understanding of the testimony of Scripture and that is my understanding from reading about and seeing how God has moved in people’s lives. Experience is not anathema. It is good and healthy, as long as it is not our sole basis of our understanding of God’s workings.
And if one wants to walk down the road and claim Acts is not helpful in developing doctrine, then suffice it to say, I point to one of our favourite passages: All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching… (2 Timothy 3:16). There are more things to consider, but that is good for me for now.
Still, if one wants to faithfully engage in understanding a charismatic pneumatology, I think they must be willing to read Max Turner’s work. It is a very balanced view on the Holy Spirit from a charismatic point of view. I don’t agree with every word, as I don’t agree with every word of a Gordon Fee. But it is a solid work.
I had hoped to discuss the second book I read on pneumatology, but I shall have to pick that up in a forthcoming article. [Updated: click here for that newer article.]