Tag Archives: book review

Heaven Is For Real – Book Review

by Scott

Most people are aware of the recently published and extremely controversial book by Rob Bell entitled Love Wins. But that book has drown out much engagement with other controversial books that have recently been released, including the one I speak of in this article. This book is not so much about a theology of heaven or hell, it’s rather an account of a nearly 4-year old boy’s trip to heaven. And, thus, you have the title, Heaven Is For Real.

So what’s the story?

It all centres around an extremely painful (both physical and emotional) event occurring one day in the life of little Colton Burpo (please lay aside any chuckling at the last name, as I will use it somewhat regularly). Following the bursting of his appendix in late February 2003, with neither his parents nor doctor realising such had happened for 5 full days, Colton finds himself intensely ill and on an operating table. It is during that time that Colton made his trip to heaven, a rather quick one from a human standpoint (3 minutes), but seemingly much longer from a heavenly perspective.

Of course, as I said, this is not nearly as contentious as Bell’s Love Wins. But it has still caused concern for some (i.e. here), with much of the controversy probably revolving around 2 main areas: 1) some of it’s possible theological ideas and 2) building theology on someone’s experience, especially that of a 4-year old. So I will address these two areas as I review  the book, though they will probably bleed together.

Here we have a book written by Colton’s father, Todd Burpo, though he is assisted by best-selling author, Lynn Vincent (most known as a co-author in Same Kind of Different As Me). One thing of import to note is that Todd Burpo is actually a pastor. He leads a small Methodist congregation in the small town of Imperial, Nebraska. But what is also of interest is that Colton’s story is being told by Todd, a father recounting the unique ways of how he came to learn of his son’s own supposed visit to heaven.

What you must understand is that this was just as much a struggle and challenge for Todd, and his wife, Sonja, as it will be for some Christians to read and believe this was an authentic visit to heaven. From the first time Colton tells of his visit (about 4 months following all of the surgeries) through to the present day, both parents have to ‘work through’ some things themselves.

So, if you read the book (or my review), don’t think you are the only one struggling with some of the things Colton says about heaven. His parents are walking through it much more than you and I, especially noting Colton’s father is a solid, evangelical believer (as far as I can tell from reading the book).

Some of the theological ‘problems’ in the book are not major ones as I understand theological problems. Probably the most difficult one, at least for evangelicals to swallow, is when Colton explains that all people in heaven have wings that help them fly and lights above their heads (think more of a shining brightness and not a gold circle as portrayed in cartoons). This is one of those places where Todd, the father, shares his struggle:

I couldn’t remember angels having lights over their heads specifically – or halos, as some would call them – but I also knew that Colton’s experience of angels in storybooks and Scripture did not include lights over angels’ heads. And he didn’t even know the world halo. I don’t know that he’d ever even seen one, since our bedtime Bible stories and the Sunday school lessons at church are closely aligned with Scripture. (p72-73)

I think it is interesting to consider this statement – ‘And he [Colton] didn’t even know the world halo.’

Todd makes similar statements a few times throughout the book, which seems to point to the fact that he does not want to manipulate what his son shares about the visit to or vision of heaven. Matter of fact, early on in the book’s account, Todd shares how one of his questions almost led Colton to answer in a certain way. Mr. Burpo did not want to walk down that road, but instead try to understand his 4-year old’s explanation of heaven. This could be a strong pointer that authenticity is quite likely.

Outside of the wings and lights above the heads, I don’t believe there were any other statements that challenge evangelical Christian beliefs (as if Colton even knows what theology or evangelicalism is).

One of the more personally challenging aspects of the book is Colton’s explanations of what he saw in heaven. They seem to come straight out of more ‘literal’ reading of Revelation – i.e. as if heaven really has streets of gold, as if we really will be hanging out in the clouds, etc.

For Todd, the father, these more literal descriptions seem to be a point of confirmation that Colton’s visit to heaven was real. But, for me, the main problem is that I see the book of Revelation, and other such Hebrew apocalyptic and prophetic visions, as just that – visions.

Revelation uses a lot of imagery to describe a greater reality of the kingdom of heaven. Thus, the pictures and the images and the numbers are more ‘symbolic’ or ‘figurative’, if you will. I’m not trying to strip Revelation of it’s truth as God’s word in Scripture. It literally means what it literally means. John really meant what he meant in describing that heavenly vision. But we have to ask what the heavenly vision literally meant and pointed to as God gave the vision to John, the apostle.

But what brings me solace, at least from a more theological standpoint, is that I realise that God has always accommodated himself to those to whom he reveals himself. Some of us might know of John Calvin’s description of God’s revelation being like baby-talk. If God spoke God-talk to 4-year old’s, or 34-year old’s or 74-year old’s, we wouldn’t understand him. Therefore, God accommodates to our level, speaks our language, makes himself understandable with where we are at, all to help us get glimpses of who he is in all his glory.

And so, for Colton to describe what he saw in the way he did, as if from a more ‘literal’ or ‘traditional’ sense (better words fail me right here), I have no problem with such. Again, though his father is a pastor, remember that, at just under 4-years old, there is not too much of a chance that Colton had been indoctrinated with what I might identify as a ‘traditional’ mentality of heaven – Jesus riding on actual white horse, people wearing white robes with sashes, everyone (or just angels) with wings, lights above people’s heads, even a future cosmic war to come (as if to support premillenialism). And so I very much believe Christ came to a young boy, a pure and simple-hearted young boy, and revealed himself in a way that Colton would understand.

And, if heaven happens to literally look like what Colton explains, then I’m fine with it. But I still think this is more vision-imagery explaining a greater reality. But my theology has been known to be wrong in other places.

I think there are some other telling factors that contribute to this being an authentic visit-vision. One is that, while in heaven, Colton says he met Todd’s grandfather who was affectionately known as Pop. Now, this might not seem a biggie, but the thing is that Pop had died almost 25 years before Colton was born. Colton had never met his great-grandfather and didn’t know anything about him. So, for Colton to tell his dad about Pop, well, you can imagine the shock of such. See more details in the book, p85-91.

Another interesting factor, maybe even more mind-boggling, is when Colton came up to his parents and said, ‘Mommy, I have two sisters.’ But, at that time, all he had was one older sister, Cassie. They thought he was also talking about his female cousin. But Colton replied, ‘No. I have two sisters, You had a baby die in your tummy, didn’t you?’

Well, lo and behold, Sonja Burpo had had a miscarriage. And they had never mentioned this to Colton (who would to a 4-year old), not to mention that a 4-year old would not even know what a miscarriage is. Needless to say, that was an extremely emotional and stirring night in the Burpo family. See see p93-97 for more.

There are a few other interesting accounts such as how Colton knew about his dad’s calling to be a pastor (p90-91).

But one of the more mind-boggling accounts is Colton’s confirmation of what Jesus physically looked like. Since the visit to heaven, when Todd and Sonja would see pictures of Jesus, they would ask Colton if that is what Jesus looked like. Every time Colton would answer in the negative. Yet, one day, Todd received an email from a pastor friend in Colorado. The email was forwarded about a young Lithuanian-American girl named Akiane Karmarik. She, too, had claimed visions of heaven, all subsequently leading to her atheist mother becoming a Christian.

But even more interesting is the fact that, following some of the visions, Akiane painted a portrait picture of Christ (now quite famous). You see, Colton had given negative responses to each picture of Christ that his parents had asked him about. But, after Todd called for Colton to come look at the picture in the email, asking if this picture was a correct representation of Christ, Colton just stood there in shock for a long moment without saying anything. Finally, after his dad nudged him in the arm, Colton responded, ‘Dad, that one’s right.’

No doubt, for some, this might seem more Twilight Zone than reality. And this leads to one of the major hang-ups with the book – building our beliefs and theology around someone’s experience, especially a 4-year old’s. Let me just go ahead and say that my desire is to not build my beliefs around Colton’s experience, just as I would not expect people to build their beliefs and theology based upon some of the personal revelations, prophecies and 2 or 3 more prophetic dreams God has given me in my life. It’s not worth doing such, though it also isn’t worth approaching every single account with cynicism.

But, with Colton’s situation, I believe Christ accommodated to a little 4-year old to reveal himself. God accommodates to me as a 31-year old pastor. God accommodated to a 100-year old man in Abraham, a life-threatening persecutor of God’s people in Paul, a strong-willed one in Peter who denied Christ at such a time as he did, and on and on. I am not trying to say Colton and Abraham or Colton and Paul are to be considered one and the same. Even Todd and Sonja, his parents, argue this. All I am saying is that understanding God has always been in the context of God making himself known to people where they are at, in their language, within their grasp, i.e., in baby-talk.

So I have no problem in believing that God brought little Colton to heaven, or gave a vision of heaven, during those pained and life-threatening days of multiple surgeries in early 2003. I am not going to stick this book somewhere between Galatians and Ephesians as what needs to be recognised as canonical revelation in the Bible. But I personally think it a beautiful account of God’s grace to not just a young little boy, but to a family. And I suppose the book can become an encouragement to others as well.

So, for me, it was great to read this account of little Colton’s visit to heaven.

I end with a saying from one wise man long ago:

Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

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Surprised by the Power of the Spirit – Book Review

by Scott

A few decades back, there were not many solid biblical and theological resources available on the Holy Spirit from a more charismatic or Pentecostal (or continuationist) perspective. But such has drastically changed in the past few decades with a plethora of resources on continuationism now available to Christians. Here is a short but solid list at my co-authored blog, To Be Continued.

One such continuationist theologian is Jack Deere with his book, Surprised by the Power of the Spirit. He also has authored Surprised by the Voice of God, which I hope to dip into one day in the near future.

Deere is an interesting case, and you will see this in the book as he shares his own story. He had been an associate professor of Old Testament at Dallas Theological Seminary (from now on DTS), which has been known for its cessationist position throughout the years. But, as Deere shares his story of moving from cessationism to continuationism, he tells of a phone call that changed his life forever. This phone call set into motion a chain of events that left him convinced that the Holy Spirit and all of His gifts are still available to body of Christ today.

In the end, Deere had to leave DTS, as his new found continuationist beliefs did not allow for him to stay within the confession of faith of the seminary. From reading the book, you get the sense that the parting of ways was not nasty, but I’m sure it was not easy for either sides – Deere or DTS. My colleague here at To Be Continued, Marv, can share more insightful thoughts about Jack Deere, as he had Deere as a professor at DTS and was also part of the Vineyard movement of which Jack Deere was also a part of as he worked closely with founder John Wimber for a time. But it seemed the parting of ways with the seminary was done respectfully, and I say that because I did not sense any animosity from Deere in the book, which is a great plus.

One of the things I liked about the book was that it included storied accounts throughout the book – Deere’s transition to continuationism and practical examples of the charismata of the Spirit in his own life and others. It wasn’t just theology. For me, I don’t need the theology. I am convinced of continuationism. Instead, I like to be encouraged with accounts of God’s power at work through the Spirit amongst the body of Christ. That is what stirs me most.

Still, for those who are unsure of the continuation of all spiritual gifts, or who may even be antagonistic to such, the theology in the book is solid, looking to be grounded first and foremost in Scripture. Thus, I think it worth a read for any continuationist or cessationist that is looking to faithfully interact with a continuationist perspective of Scripture.

A warning for someone who is more cessationist: I am confident you will find statements that you will not like. What I mean is that, at times, Deere does not butter things up. There are times when he makes very poignant and honest statements. I believe he feels he can make such statements because he was once a cessationist and can address what he sees as ‘holes’ in the cessationist view. I don’t say this in some ad hominem way, as I am aware there are some who have moved from continuationism to cessationism. Still, there are times when he is forthright with some of the cessationist arguments that I believe fall short of faithfulness to the biblical text.

For example, chapter 5 is entitled, The Real Reason Christians Do Not Believe in the Miraculous Gifts. He shares a few reasons why people do not believe in the miraculous gifts, but he points out one major reason: because they have not seen miracles in their present experience.

That is a major argument for cessationists. And the reverse would probably be true of most continuationists. One reason we believe they still exist is because we believe we have experienced and seen examples of such gifts of the Spirit. Interesting how our experience shapes our theology. We must recognise this. It’s not evil and ungodly. It’s a reality of every Christian (and non-Christian). I share more along these lines in this article and this article.

One of the things I didn’t fully agree with Deere about, which isn’t that major, came from chapter 5. He states that a false assumption of cessationism is believing that the apostle’s healing ministry was the same as the gift of healing. First off, he notes there is an assumption amongst some cessationists that the apostle’s could heal automatically, any time they wanted, at will. But that is far from even the biblical record.

But when Deere refers to the ‘miraculous gifts’, he is not just speaking of healings or miracles, but the nine gifts associated with 1 Corinthians 12:8-10. And because this text, and others, make it clear that these are distributed to the whole body of Christ, he would look to differentiate between the apostle’s ministry in these gifts and the body of Christ’s ministry. He specifically states:

‘The third thing I discovered is that, taken as a whole, the apostles are presented by the New Testament as the most gifted individuals within the church. Although I am sure the apostles received charismata, just as others in the body of Christ, the New Testament never describes their healing ministries with the term charisma. The miraculous ministry of the apostles is designated by the phrase signs and wonders.’ (p69, italics his)

This could simply be a case of appealing to silence, meaning that something must be true because the opposite is never stated in Scripture (hence, there is silence on the matter). Thus, because the Greek word, charismata, is never used in connection with the use of the miraculous gifts amongst the apostles, then their use of such must have been a different category. Again, I’m not sure this fully holds up.

Still, another problem is that non-apostles like Stephen and Philip were used in such miraculous ministries described as ‘signs and wonders’. See Acts 6:8 and 8:4-8. I would not exclude ‘signs and wonders’ from those who were not apostles. And I wouldn’t try and dichotomise the miracles and healings of the ‘normal’ body of Christ from the signs and wonders of the apostles. I don’t think it’s fully sustainable.

Another example is that Paul tells us he speaks in tongues more than all of the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 14:18). And, remember, Deere groups all nine gifts from 1 Corinthians 12 into the ‘miraculous gifts’ (see p68). But his argument is that the apostle’s use of these gifts is more connected to ‘signs and wonders’. Yet, within the Corinthians context, is Paul’s use of tongues that which is for the whole body, or that which is just for apostles, or both? Well, tongues can be utilised as a sign itself (see 1 Corinthians 14:20-25, though this passage has caused much discussion). So, I’m still not sure such a distinction holds up. But, in the end, this is not of huge consequence to the belief in and utilisation of all the gifts of the Spirit. Moving on…

Not only is the book a theological resource for a case for continuationism, but it is also a very practical help at times. Not just with storied accounts of healings or prophecies or words of knowledge, though those give great encouragement, but also with counsel and wisdom in regards to seeking God and the work of His Spirit, even within churches that are cautious or in cases where one would like to encourage their leadership to be open to these gifts.

The final thing I would like to point out is that, in his Appendix B, Deere takes time to address the issue of the existence of apostles today. Most who know me will know that I am an advocate for present-day apostles. I have written plenty in a series on this topic, of which I still have 2 or 3 more articles I would like to post. I also have preached on this topic before – you can download the messages by clicking here.

So I was interested to read his thoughts on apostles today. And, actually, Deere is not closed to the idea of present-day apostles. As a summary to the Appendix, he pens these words:

‘I do not know of anyone today whom I would want to call an apostle in the same sense that I would call Paul an apostle. I am not willing, however, to rule out this possibility, because I do not think the Scriptures rule it out.’ (p275)

This is where the discussion gets down to the nitty-gritty. If apostles exist, are they in the same vein of a Paul, John, Peter, etc? Or are they ‘lesser-than’ apostles? I believe apostles exist today. Would I say they have the same ministry-anointing as Paul? Not really. But I still believe apostles are people of authority, of revelation, who are foundation builders-layers, and who help equip the body of Christ in varying ways, helping us be an apostolic (sent out, mission-minded) people.

For those ‘on the fence’ with regards to the continuation of all the gifts of the Spirit for today, these thoughts on apostles today might cause one to immediately reject Jack Deere as a viable source to consider. But such should not be the case. This work is a solid biblical and theological case for contiunuationism, even if one rejects the idea of apostles today.

Deere is faithful to not only address the cessationist perspective on particular passages of Scripture and theology, but more importantly he is faithful to present a positive, biblical-theological case for continuationism. Hence, it’s not written as a slap to cessationists. Rather it is a signpost pointing to the ‘charismatic’ work of the Spirit amongst God’s people in this present age. Such was one major purpose of Pentecost.

Therefore, I recommend that continuationist, cessationist, and everyone in between look to interact with this book as they think through the validity of the continuing work of the Spirit in all his varying gifts for the body of Christ.

Coming Up Next Week

by Scott

As we have stated on our About Page, one thing we would like to provide is theological and biblical resources with regards to a positive case for continuationism. Thus, next week, I shall be posting some thoughts about Jack Deere’s, Surprised by the Power of the Spirit. It stands as a solid work, giving both biblical reasoning for the continuation of all gifts of the Spirit as well as providing real-life stories of situations in which these gifts were used.

Stay tuned……

What Are Spiritual Gifts? – Book Review

spiritual+gifts

by Scott

In this article, I specifically want to share some thoughts on a book about spiritual gits that I read about six months ago. It is entitled What Are Spiritual Gifts? Rethinking the Conventional View, by Kenneth Berding, Associate Professor of Biblical and Theological Studies at Biola University in California.

The main premise of the book is Berding’s challenge of what he calls the conventional view of spiritual gifts. What he means by this term is that most people see spiritual gifts as latent abilities hidden within a person that we are to try to unearth and discover. I believe this is a fair summary of Berding’s understanding of the ‘conventional view’, as seen from his own words:

‘The difficulty arises because, in the conventional view, there is underlying the entire discussion the assumption that a latent ability has been discovered and should be used by the person doing the ministry.’ (p99)

Therefore, because of his disagreement with this conventional approach, author Kenneth Berding takes up the task of truly defining the words charisma, charismata and pneumatika (this task is directly undertaken in chapters 5 and 6, though this is relevant to the whole work).

In doing so, he sees spiritual gifts not as special abilities to be unearthed in a particular person, but he rather defines them as ministry roles or ministry appointments. This is evidenced in such words as:

‘Paul doesn’t encourage his readers to try to discover their special spiritual abilities; rather, he challenges and encourages them to strengthen the community of faith in whatever roles of ministry that God has placed them.’ (p77)

In all, he emphasises the function of the gifts, the outworking and serving with the gifts, not so much the gift being an inward entity itself to be discovered by the person.

I believe this is an amazingly healthy view and emphasis with regards to spiritual gifts. He, like I, is not a big fan of spiritual gift tests. For so many in the conventional approach, this is the place to start in helping one determine their spiritual gifts. But I am not so sure that is the best place to start. I always laugh when one of my friends refers to these tests as Christian horoscopes.

Now, I am not saying a spiritual gift test is evil. It might even be helpful. But my understanding, at least from the little bit of Scripture that addresses these things (i.e. Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12-14; Ephesians 4:11-15; 1 Peter 4:10-11), we are not really encouraged to give a whole lot of time to ‘figuring out’ our giftings.

Rather, I see Scripture emphasising that we get on with serving one another, washing one another’s feet, and the specific giftings of God will become more evident through such serving activities. And, even more, as we stay connected to the body of Christ and its leaders, we will, in turn, be encouraged and stirred about the gifts and serving ministries to which God has called us. Thus, spiritual giftings are not something one discovers on their own, but rather within community, that being the body of Christ.

Not only that, I feel that most spiritual gift tests are too defined around the specific gifts. You must fit this mold for this gift. But it becomes too stuffy. Plus, as one who is a full continuationist, I believe all biblical gifts are still available. But most spiritual gift tests don’t give opportunity for one to consider apostolic and prophetic gifts, but that’s another story…

So, back to Berding’s book. As I said, I truly appreciate his emphasis on seeing spiritual gifts as the serving roles and ministry functions that God opens for His people. There is a healthy focus on the actual doing and serving, not the unearthing of some hidden ability.

Nevertheless, there are a few things I would challenge him on:

1) I am ok to refer to spiritual gifts as ‘abilities’, though he is not. I don’t generally agree with what he calls the ‘conventional view’ and it’s focus on hidden abilities to discover. But I think it is quite ok to recognise our giftings as actual abilities given to us by God, and thus that these gifts are within the believer.

Why? Well, the One who gifts us is resident within us – the Holy Spirit. Therefore, I believe it is fine to recognise that the gifts are actually within us, resident in the body of Christ. Again, I would emphasise functioning and serving with those gifts. It’s ridiculous to talk about something in you that you never walk out or serve the body with. But, for me, it is a little too nit picky to steer clear of the phrasing, ‘abilities within’, if we keep it in the true context of serving with our gifts.

2) Berding does not like using the word ability to speak of spiritual gifts. But he does like using the word enablement. Yet, when I read his work, many times he uses the two words as synonyms (i.e. p25). For me, it is a little inconsistent. I think he might be walking a fine line of semantics that, at times, leaves him falling on the side he says he doesn’t side with.

3) He is continually adamant that the giftings of God are not God-given abilities. Yet, when it comes to the gifts of 1 Corinthians 12:8-10 (which Berding still believes are active today), he is willing to concede that they are Spirit-given abilities. Here are his words (sorry for the longer quote):

‘The conventional approach views the list in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10 as a list of Spirit-given abilities, and in one sense that is a valid perspective – at least for this list. But there are two aspects of this particular list that stand out as different from Paul’s other lists. First, for all the items in this list, the power of the Holy Spirit is obvious when these activities occur. For this reason, these items are grouped together and are referred to as the “manifestation of the Spirit.”

Second, for the items in this list, enablement is a prerequisite for the activities. In some of the other ministries found in Paul’s other lists (for example, administration, service, teaching), enablement is not as noticeable and the activity can be done, at least to some degree, through the employment of natural abilities.’ (p112-113)

Now, no doubt discussion exists around whether there is a difference between the gifts in 1 Corinthians 12 and those listed elsewhere in the New Testament, at least with regards to their enabling, as Berding hints at in the quote above. But, for me, things get a little hairy when you start saying that the gifts of 1 Corinthians 12 need Spirit enabling and empowering, but the other lists do not. Interestingly enough, Romans 12 includes prophecy and Ephesians 4 includes prophet. So, maybe only those need Spirit enabling from those lists. The others don’t.

Of course, non-Christians can serve and give (those being two specific gifts found in Romans 12:6-8). But that isn’t necessarily the problem. What we are trying to do is to consider all of these giftings as empowered by the Spirit for the believer. I was administrative before I became a Christian. But that does not negate the Spirit-enablement I need in my administration now. The past 12+ years, I utilise, or should utilise, all my giftings in the power of the Spirit for the expanse of God’s kingdom and building up the body of Christ.

So, in all, I would say Berding’s separation of the differing lists of gifts is not helpful. He might say he is not trying to separate them, but it leaves one feeling that is what he is doing. To that, I cannot agree. I believe all spiritual gifts are, or should be, enabled and empowered by the One who dwells in us and gifts the body – the Holy Spirit.

4) Even when I go back into the Old Testament and read the account of people like Oholiab and Bezalel (the two main craftsmen of the tabernacle), I get this sense that the gifts of God are abilities within us. Read Exodus 31:1-11. Specifically look at what it says in vs3 and vs6. I am left believing the gifts of God are actually given to us. And, of course, they are given so that we might function in them and serve the body of Christ (Berding’s emphasis). I don’t want to walk down the full path of the conventional approach. But, again, I am ok to recognise that these gifts are given to and, therefore, are within the Spirit-indwelt believer.

5) Finally, if spiritual gifts are simply the serving and ministry roles we have, then this might give precedence for just about everything to be considered a spiritual gift. Remember, for Berding, spiritual gift = ministry role. So, you then have the ministry role of ushering, worship leader, church building cleaner, secretary, gardener, etc. Thus, since ‘ministry role’ is synonymous with spiritual gift, you then have the spiritual gift of ushering, worship leader, church building cleaner, secretary, gardener, etc. For me, I am not convinced it works like that.

Now, what you could have is those people especially gifted in serving (maybe even appointed as deacons) who serve in some administration, serve as an usher or greeter, etc. You might have someone who is gifted as a leader, and with prophetic insight, who is also regularly leading the time of corporate worship. But, I think Berding’s definition of spiritual gifts as ministry roles or ministry assignments might just lead down the path of recognising everything as a spiritual gift. Yes, I believe spiritual gifts are probably broader than the four passages in the New Testament. But I think a lot of our serving roles fall under some of those gifts listed in the Scripture.

In all, as I have said, I really appreciate Kenneth Berding’s emphasis on serving and functioning in our gifts. I am not too high on this idea of ‘finding our gifts’, especially through 100-question tests. I think the Scripture gives better ways to know the gifts of God that He has given us: 1) get on with serving and 2) stay connected to the body of Christ and its leaders. But, I do think it is ok to recognise the gifts, all gifts, as within us, even abilities within us, since the Spirit of God has taken up residence within us Himself.

The Charismatic Theology of St. Luke

A couple of weeks ago, I posted an article about a solid theological book on pneumatology, that is, the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. It was entitled, The Holy Spirit and Spiritual Gifts: In the New Testament Church and Today by Max Turner, professor at London School of Theology. The book must be one of the more modern better books on pneumatology. Well, here is another pneumatological title, The Charismatic Theology of St Luke, by Roger Stronstad.

To start out, one of the pluses of the book is that it is a mere 83 pages. Now, of course, one might say, ‘Only 83 pages as an academic work. Are you sure it’s good?’

Well, I am quite aware of the fact that all things cannot be covered in a 300+ page book, like Turner’s, much less an 83-page book. But I was quite intrigued that Stronstad was able to faithfully look at quite a few things in such a shorter work. He was even pulling in references from various sources, including quite a few intertestamental writings as he looked at some later-BC Judaistic views of the Spirit.

Stronstad is a Pentecostal scholar, so I would tend to agree with a lot of things he has put forth in the work. But I would also couple that with stating that he is quite balanced in his approach.

Yes, he does believe the baptism, or initial filling of the Spirit, can be received following salvation-initiation. But I do not believe he is one to argue too far over the top, stating that this is the only way. He even ends out in his final chapter with some practical and pastoral challenges such as 1) not seeing tongues as the initial evidence of receiving the Spirit or that 2) we steer clear of a two-tier class of Christianity. Both are not biblically warranted, to which I agree.

There are three major and important contributions in Stronstad’s work that I point out in this article:

1) He shows the strong connection between the infancy-inauguration of Luke’s Gospel with the Pentecost initiation narrative of Acts. Stronstad states:

‘In the structure of Luke-Acts, the Pentecost narrative stands in the same relationship to the Acts as the infancy-inauguration narratives do to the Gospel. In the Gospel of Luke these narratives not only introduce the motifs which define the mission of Jesus, but they also show that Jesus will execute His mission in the power of the Holy Spirit. In a similar manner, the Pentecost narrative introduces both the future mission of the disciples and the complementary empowering of the Spirit.’ (p49)

He also makes this statement just a few pages earlier in regards to the parallel accounts of Luke’s narrative Gospel and Luke’s narrative of Acts:

‘The Gospel [of Luke] is the story of Jesus, the unique charismatic Prophet; the Acts is the story of His disciples, a community of charismatic prophets.’ (p34)

No wonder Stronstad would later publish the book, The Prophethood of All Believers, of which I also wrote an article about here.

2) Stronstad also shows how Luke must be considered both historian and theologian, not simply historian. This is not always accepted in biblical-scholarly circles. But doing so will be of great help to us as we consider a full and holistic biblical pneumatology. He makes this important statement in his work:

‘Consequently, just as the recognition that Luke is a theologian as well as a historian makes Luke-Acts a legitimate data base for the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, so the recognition that Luke is independent of Paul will broaden the New Testament data base for the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. To recognize these two facts is to rehabilitate Luke as a historian-theologian of the Holy Spirit and to allow him to make a significant, unique, and independent contribution to the doctrine of the Holy Spirit.’ (p11)

He, then, goes on to challenge our thinking with these words:

‘On the one hand, where it is appropriate, all parties in the current debate must abandon those largely self-serving methodological programs which conspire to either silence or to manipulate Luke’s distinctive theology. On the other hand, all parties must develop a methodological consensus for interpreting the gift of the Spirit in Luke-Acts. At a minimum, this consensus must include the following principles: 1) Luke-Acts is theologically homogeneous, 2) Luke is a theologian as well as a historian, and 3) Luke is an independent theologian in his own right.’ (p12)

3) Connected to the last point, Stronstad also emphasises that Luke and Paul have different emphases in their pneumatology. Of course, their theology is to be harmonized as part of the whole of Scripture’s teaching. Yet, within Paul’s writings, we continually read of the soteriological necessity of the Spirit, which sees the work of the Spirit as bringing people into sonship with God and incorporating them into the body of Christ. But, in Luke, the Spirit is recognised as the Spirit of prophecy that empowers God’s people for mission and service.

And we see this as we compare the use of certain phrases in both Luke and Paul. Interestingly enough, Luke uses the phrase, ‘baptised in the Spirit’, 3 times while Paul only uses it once. Even more, Luke uses the phrase, ‘filled with the Spirit’, 9 times of which Paul only refers to it once as well. Maybe Luke will help inform our pneumatology a little more than we had first thought.

Thus, we see that Stronstad puts forth the arguement that Luke’s pneumatology is about the Spirit being given for witness and service. Hence, why he would argue that the Spirit, from a Lukan-charismatic perspective, could be received post-salvation. He states:

‘If we have interpreted Luke’s Pentecost narrative correctly, then the gift of the Spirit is not for salvation, but it is for witness and service. In other words, with the transfer of the Spirit to the disciples on the day of Pentecost, they become a charismatic community, heirs to the earlier charismatic ministry of Jesus.’ (p62)

Therefore, with anyone wanting to studying biblical pneumatology, especially a Lukan pneumatology, though this book is short and from a more Pentecostal-charismatic perspective, I do think it is worth diving into. For me, I definitely appreciated the work. But may be I am a little biased as a charismatic.