(Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2004), 338 pp.
Edited by Chad Owen Brand
Books articulating multiple perspectives on a particular subject have become fashionable in the evangelical world. Zondervan’s Counterpoint series is now up to seventeen volumes. Inter-Varsity Press has also joined in with a treatment of four views on divine foreknowledge. Now Broadman & Holman takes its turn with this treatment of Spirit baptism.
The editor of this volume is Chad Brand, associate professor of Christian Theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. The five views represented here and their respective proponents are: Walter Kaiser, President of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and advocate of the Reformed view; Stanley Horton, Professor at The Assemblies of God Theological Seminary and advocate of the classical Pentecostal perspective; Larry Hart, Professor of Theology at Oral Roberts University, who defends what he calls a “Dimensional Charismatic” view; Ray Dunning of Trevecca Nazarene University in Nashville, Tennessee, articulates the Wesleyan position; and Ralph Del Colle, who teaches theology at Marquette University, defends the Roman Catholic view.
The format of the book is similar to others, with an introductory chapter by Brand, followed by lengthy presentations of each contributor, together with brief responses from the others. The book is a wealth of bibliographical information with its 35 pages of detailed endnotes.
Brand’s introduction sets the stage for the subsequent dialogue, although he focuses less on Spirit baptism and more on the Holy Spirit and miracles in the early church. After a brief reference to B. B. Warfield’s famous defense of cessationism, Counterfeit Miracles (Banner of Truth,1972; first published in 1918), Brand proceeds to cite a number of early church fathers who bear witness to the ongoing operation of supernatural phenomena and gifts. Ignatius, the author of The Shepherd of Hermas, Justin Martyr, the Montanists (whose orthodoxy has been, in my opinion, unfairly questioned), Irenaeus of Lyons, Hippolytus of Rome, Origen, and the Cappadocians (specifically Gregory of Nazianzus and Basil), all testify to the presence of so-called miraculous gifts well beyond the close of the apostolic age. Brand’s conclusion follows:
“It appears that there was a significant diminution of the frequency of miracles from the time of the apostles into the subapostolic period, but they were not eliminated completely. The Warfield hypothesis – that the true charismata ceased with the death of the disciples of the apostles – is in need of revision, at the very least. But he seems to have been correct on one point: the miracles of the church from the third century on had begun to take on superstitious characteristics not found in biblical accounts. Still, the question of the continuance of the miraculous charismata is a live and open issue for debate today” (6).
Walter Kaiser provides us with a fairly standard defense of the “Reformed Perspective,” according to which Spirit baptism is understood as simultaneous with conversion and thus common to all those who are born again. Kaiser briefly addresses the issue of the degree to which, if at all, we can deduce doctrine from narrative portions of Scripture, and also comments, with negative conclusions, on whether tongues is the initial physical evidence of Spirit baptism. Although he denies the concept of Spirit baptism as separate from and subsequent to conversion, he affirms that “there is a work of the Holy Spirit that comes after salvation. It is the ‘filling’ of the Holy Spirit” (33). There is little, dare I say nothing, in Kaiser’s treatment that goes beyond standard explanations of the Reformed view.
Horton’s chapter on the Pentecostal perspective is highly anecdotal in nature. But he asks us at the beginning, “please do not close your mind when I speak of experience. Spirit baptism is an observable and intensely personal experience, not just a doctrine” (48). Following a brief survey of the early years of the Pentecostal movement, Horton turns his attention to the passages in Acts typically cited in defense of subsequence as well as those which he believes demonstrate tongues to be the initial physical evidence of that experience. The remainder of his chapter is devoted to illustrations and stories of those whose lives and ministries have been profoundly transformed by their experience of the Spirit.
I mention here only one response to Horton among the four. Larry Hart affirms “the bulk of the Pentecostal argument” (95), but does raise several important points, among which are the following:
“. . . the Pentecostals have never seemingly worked out a theology of the Christian life that would provide interpretation for the wide diversity of Christian experience. Are we simply to conclude that those saints never having experienced a distinctive second blessing empowerment are spiritually defective in some sense?” (95).
“Does the New Testament warrant making a ‘law’ of tongues, as it were, as the sign of spiritual empowerment. If so, then how does one explain the seemingly powerless and unfruitful tongues-speaking saints, which almost any Pentecostal pastor would have to acknowledge exist?” (95).
By far the most intriguing chapter in the book is the defense of “A Dimensional Charismatic Perspective” by Larry Hart. Although I’m not in complete agreement with Hart, and found myself asking questions of his proposal that I don’t believe he answered, I found his arguments insightful and challenging, and most of all deserving of careful and extensive study.
Hart contends that “strictly speaking, Spirit baptism is a metaphor, not a doctrine. Further, it is a metaphor whose usage is clearly not univocal within the New Testament” (108). In other words, there is a “fluidity”, if you will, to the way in which the work of the Spirit is described in the NT. He proceeds to argue that Spirit baptism can refer to the eschatological redemptive work of Jesus (John the Baptist’s statement that Jesus would baptize “in Spirit and fire” describes “how Jesus both inaugurates and consummates the kingdom” ), the experience of each believer at the time of conversion (this is certainly Paul’s emphasis, as 1 Corinthians 12:13 makes clear; see p. 117), the Christian life as a whole, and empowerment for ministry and mission (Acts 2, 8, 10, 19). In other words, he believes the problem has been that we have tried to restrict the concept of Spirit baptism to one phenomenon, at only one particular time, in Christian experience.
He points out that Luke uses seven different phrases to describe the coming of the Spirit: believers are “baptized” in the Spirit (Acts 1:5; 11:16), the Spirit “comes upon” us (Acts 1:8), believers are “filled” with the Spirit (Acts 2:4), the Spirit is “poured out” (Acts 2:17), believers “receive” the Spirit (Acts 2:38), the Spirit is “given” (Acts 8:18), and the Spirit “falls upon” them (Acts 8:16). Whereas evangelicals point to the importance of a post-conversion “filling” of the Spirit, Pentecostals and charismatics point out that “this is precisely how Luke describes the event of Pentecost itself. In fact, Luke uses all seven of his descriptive phrases with reference to Pentecost” (122).
It is at this stage that Hart’s proposal gets a bit confusing. He wants to argue that it is thoroughly biblical for a Christian to say that he/she was “baptized in the Spirit” both at conversion and at some subsequent time with a view to empowerment for ministry. Paul used the phrase to describe the former whereas Luke used it to describe the latter. He writes:
“On the one side are the Evangelicals safely entrenched behind Paul’s 1 Corinthians 12:13. And on the other, the Pentecostals and Charismatics fortify themselves with Luke’s Acts 2:4. Who is right? Both are right. In the Pauline sense of the metaphor, all believers have experienced Spirit baptism. In the Lukan emphasis on the empowering dimension of Spirit baptism, we may not all be ‘filled with the Spirit’! The traditional view that Spirit baptism in its regenerational dimension is what all true believers have in common is correct. But the Pentecostal/Charismatic tradition is also on target in arguing that Luke uses the metaphor (along with at least six others) in an empowering sense” (118).
The problem I have with this is that Paul commands and Luke describes the “filling of the Spirit” as an on-going, repeatable phenomenon in the life of the believer. If one equates “filling” with “baptism,” as Hart appears to do by appealing to Acts 2:4, then should we not refer to multiple “baptisms in the Spirit” that repeatedly empower throughout the course of the Christian life? Hart believes his “dimensional” approach would lead us to conclude that “Spirit baptism in the New Testament refers to conversion-initiation, initial sanctification, and spiritual empowerment as well as the outworking of these realities in the total Christian life” (124). That’s fine, but if this “empowerment” is identified with “filling” we are facing the problem noted above. I agree with Hart that we need to be careful about our western tendency to “derive tidy categories and rigid schemes” (127) when it comes to the Spirit’s work. But it’s one thing to say that Spirit baptism is the foundation for and enables a continually transformed life. It’s another thing entirely to say that one is baptized in the Spirit each time one is filled with the Spirit. I don’t think this is what Hart wants to say, but that is the conclusion that his argument kept leading me to make. Again, Hart argues that “Spirit baptism encompasses the entirety of our Christian lives” (156) and cites Titus 3:5 and 2 Cor. 3:18 as evidence, neither of which, however, mentions Spirit baptism. Again, Spirit baptism “entails not only regeneration, but also the ongoing sanctification of life” (156). Yes. I agree. But to say that Spirit baptism “encompasses” and “entails” all that comes thereafter in the Christian life is far from saying that specific moments of empowerment subsequent to conversion are Spirit baptism.
Toward the close of his piece Hart says that “if all [i.e., Pentecostals, Charismatics, and Evangelicals] could agree that spiritual empowerment is an ongoing reality and can be legitimately referred to as being ‘filled with the Holy Spirit,’ then we have come a long way toward a rapprochement!” (162-63). I wholeheartedly agree. I myself suggested this in the book Are Miraculous Gifts for Today? Four Views (Zondervan). So long as we acknowledge both that all Christians “receive” the Spirit at conversion and that all Christians can be “empowered” by or “anointed” and “filled with” the Spirit for ministry and mission subsequent to conversion, the debate would then be reduced to the question of how speaking in tongues relates to the former experience. Is it the initial physical evidence thereof, or not? Although a Charismatic, Hart would opt for the latter. So would I.
The chapter on the Wesleyan perspective, by Ray Dunning, is helpful insofar as it clarifies what Wesley himself believed and how his views underwent change in the subsequent tradition that bore his name. It is not helpful, however, in advancing our understanding of the biblical text and how the language of Spirit baptism is used.
Dunning contends that, contrary to popular thought, John Wesley did not believe that Spirit baptism was an appropriate way of describing the experience of entire sanctification. This “innovation” came from the ministry of John Fletcher, Wesley’s hand-picked successor. The result of this was that “the preachers and teachers of the Holiness revivals in the United States came to speak with one voice about entire sanctification as the ‘baptism with the Holy Spirit,’ and underscored its significance as being both instantaneous and subsequent to conversion, thus a ‘second work of grace’” (201).
After a brief survey of the biblical evidence and the insights of a variety of Wesleyan and Holiness scholars, Dunning concludes:
“This means that the phrase ‘baptism with the Holy Spirit’ may legitimately be applied to the new birth, subsequent infillings, and the transformation Wesleyans have referred to as entire sanctification or Christian perfection, and that each of them has for its divinely intended purpose the renewing of human persons in the image of God which is perfectly embodied under the conditions of existence by Jesus Christ. Furthermore, this use of the phrase cannot be legitimately restricted exclusively to any one of the above mentioned ‘experiences’” (226-27).
My concern here is the same as with Hart’s proposal. If Spirit baptism “may legitimately be applied to . . . subsequent infillings,” what prevents us from saying that every Christian may be baptized in the Spirit repeatedly throughout the course of his/her earthly life? But such a concept is distinctly absent from the New Testament. I still hold firmly to the old adage, “one baptism, multiple fillings.”
The chapter by Ralph Del Colle on the “Catholic Perspective” is helpful in one sense. He provides us with an excellent overview of the Catholic Charismatic renewal and the various perspectives on Spirit baptism that emerged from it, both past and present. The primary focus of debate among Catholics is how, if at all, Spirit baptism is related to sacramental grace (all those he cites are careful to say that Spirit baptism is not itself a sacrament). With only slight variations that appear to make little difference, the vast majority of Catholic scholars view Spirit baptism not as “the reception of a new event of grace” but rather as “renewal and actualization of baptismal initiation” (250).
Official Catholic dogma insists that the Spirit is fully imparted at the time of one’s baptism and/or confirmation. Thus, however one may describe their subsequent “experience,” it cannot be said that the Spirit comes anew, or afresh, or for a “second” time. Rather, Spirit baptism is a “release” or “unfolding” of the Spirit already present. The charismatic experience is simply the “emerging into consciousness” or the “flowering” into subjective awareness of the renewing and empowering work of the Spirit who has been present all along.
In summary, my overall assessment of this volume is mixed. As noted, Kaiser adds little, if any at all, to the standard evangelical perspective. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing if one is unfamiliar with that view. But I was hoping for more thorough interaction on his part with the latest work among Pentecostals, in particular the work of William and Robert Menzies (Spirit and Power: Foundations of Pentecostal Experience [Zondervan, 2000]) and those who contribute to the journal Pneuma and The Journal of Pentecostal Theology. Horton’s anecdotal emphasis was inspiring, but ultimately did little to advance the dialogue. Dunning and Del Colle are to be commended for advancing our grasp on what Wesley and Roman Catholicism, respectively, say about this topic, but neither engaged in sufficient interaction with the biblical text to help the reader make an informed decision on which view, if either, is correct. Hart’s chapter, notwithstanding my stated concerns, remains the best of them all. I wish he had engaged the arguments of Max Turner (The Holy Spirit and Spiritual Gifts [Hendrickson Publishers]), who in my opinion has made the most persuasive case against the concept of subsequence. Therefore, although I can’t bring myself to agree with Hart entirely, he has stimulated my thinking and made me want to return to Luke-Acts yet again for more thorough analysis.
In the final analysis, if you are looking for a definitive statement of Spirit baptism with conclusive textual evidence for a particular view, this volume isn’t for you. But it is still worth the read.