Commendation for a Pentecostal Classic:
Roger Stronstad’s The Charismatic Theology of St. Luke
(Hendrickson Publishers, 104 pp., paperback)
By Martin Mittelstadt
Wow! The Pentecostal movement is now into its second century. Who would have thought an unassuming series of revivals would create such impact on contemporary Christianity? God is surely at work through our Movement. While this is true, consider a larger perspective on the Christian story.
Though several generations have come and gone, the place of Pentecostalism remains only a part of God’s work through the church. When Pentecostals speak of the “the old time religion,” they often fail to realize the relative youthfulness of their tradition. When compared to Roman Catholicism, Anglicanism, Reformed, or Wesleyan traditions, we are an adolescent movement. When these historic traditions reflect on their core teachings and values, they reach deep into history and consume theological classics, treatises that stand the test of time. In light of the youthfulness of our Movement, many would find it presumptuous to suggest a classic Pentecostal treatise. But Roger Stronstad’sCharismatic Theology of St. Luke, now in print for 25 years, warrants such consideration.
Stronstad is a pioneer in Pentecostal scholarship and among the first of Pentecostals to be taken seriously by the larger Christian academy. Unfortunately, many Pentecostals remain unaware of this monumental work.
Early Pentecostals proclaimed the centrality of life in the Spirit, marked by postconversion Spirit baptism. They believed this experience created intimacy with God and ensuing power for witness. Years later the more doctrinally diverse, yet Spirit-centered charismatic movement, imbued mainline traditions with new energy. Today, as historians and theologians reflect on 20th-century Christianity, many label it the “Century of the Spirit.”1 New books on the current work of the Holy Spirit come off printing presses at ever-increasing speed. In such times, Pentecostal leaders and teachers seeking seasoned insight would do well to read and/or revisit Stronstad’s Charismatic Theology.
Stronstad remains a fixture on the Canadian Pentecostal scene. On the faculty at Summit Pacific College since 1974, Stronstad continues to shape young women and men preparing for ministry. He is surely our most prolific and influential scholar. As an academician, he not only remains committed to scholarly excellence, but also writes with the heart of a pastor. In Charismatic Theology, Stronstad produces a broadly respected analysis on the work of the Holy Spirit in the Scriptures, particularly Luke-Acts, and the work of the Spirit today.
In the 1970s, fresh interpretative approaches to biblical narrative, particularly Luke-Acts, begin to produce big dividends for Pentecostals. For much of the 20th century, theologians viewed Luke-Acts primarily as a historical document; thus, Luke recounts the Christian story. While many theologians continue to praise Luke’s historical accuracy, Pentecostals have always believed Luke is more than a historian. According to Stronstad, Luke complements the historical dimension, namely, the foundational life of Jesus and the ensuing spread of Christianity from Palestine to Rome with a theological one. Luke provides pastoral instruction for Theophilus and every other reader who will subsequently make up his audience (Luke 1:1–4; Acts 1:1). Most important for Pentecostals, Stronstad emphasizes Luke’s special instruction concerning life in the Spirit.
While many theologians locate Luke’s primary purpose for writing Acts as a backdrop for the Pauline epistles (which they deem real theological material), Stronstad recognizes Luke as a theologian in his own right. Stronstad appeals to 2 Timothy 3:16,17 (“all Scripture is inspired”) and challenges the fallacy that we must read Luke-Acts through the interpretive lens of the apostle Paul. Stronstad removes the mask of incompetence placed on Luke and validates Luke’s contribution to present day application of the Holy Spirit.
Stronstad provides a succinct and readable presentation of Lukan pneumatology by repeatedly emphasizing that the gift of the Spirit is not for regeneration but for the equipping of Jesus’ followers for witness and service. Stronstad notes Paul’s singular use of the phrases “baptism in the Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:13) and “filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18) compared with 12 references to the same two phrases by Luke (“baptism in the Holy Spirit”: Luke 3:16; Acts 1:5; 11:16 and “filled with the Holy Spirit”: Luke 1:15,41,67; Acts 2:4; 4:8, 31; 9:17; 13:9; 13:52) and concludes that reading Luke as though he were Paul silences Lukes unique sense of life in the Spirit.
Stronstad roots his exegesis in the Old Testament tradition. He likens Luke’s view of the Spirit to the transfer of the charismatic Spirit from leaders to successors such as Moses to his elders (Numbers 11:14–17,25) and Elijah to Elisha (2 Kings 2:9,15). As Luke moves to his own era, the same Spirit to rest upon Jesus (Luke 4:18–21) and empower Jesus’ entire mission is transferred from Jesus to the disciples at Pentecost (Acts 2). This transfer of the gift of the charismatic Spirit on the Day of Pentecost becomes paradigmatic for the people of God. Stronstad emphasizes that Spirit enablement, available to all Christians, includes the ability to perform miracles, engage in persuasive and bold witness, prophecy, praise and worship, judgment, guidance through visions and dreams, as well as wisdom and faith.
Stronstad’s conclusions remain critical for Pentecostal theology. He employs the term “charismatic” as an experiential equipping of the Holy Spirit for any vocational task to which an individual or group is called. Stronstad argues that Luke understands Spirit-reception not in Paul’s salvific manner but rather as divine enablement for mission through the Spirit.
So why read Stronstad? Contemporary Pentecostals continue to address the theological and experiential integrity of Spirit baptism. On the one hand, many people enter the doors of a Pentecostal church and go for lengthy periods of time before hearing of this core Pentecostal distinctive. Unfortunately, some ministers fall prey to the evangelicalization of Pentecostalism; “we don’t want to stir the waters.” Still other ministers and parishioners remain wounded from abusive articulations, whether theological and/or experiential. Pentecostals and non-Pentecostals will not find here an obnoxious and interrogating work but a graceful yet challenging text.
On the other hand, many remain committed to instruction of this core distinctive but struggle to find valuable resources. Once again, I propose that Stronstad provides an unparalleled resource guide. Twenty-five years in print for our youthful movement may not be monumental for a Catholic or a Lutheran, but surely warrants attention in our tradition.
I use this work not only in undergrad and seminary courses on Acts, but also in Sunday School and Bible studies. While many passionate readers struggle to find quality resources on the Holy Spirit, this work remains accessible for a wide variety of readers; pastors, Sunday School teachers, Bible study teachers, and parishioners alike find this work enlivening and refreshing. Those familiar with Pentecostal teaching on the Spirit-filled life find fodder for fresh reflection and exploration, while those unfamiliar receive a challenging yet inviting exhortation to fresh understanding and pursuit of the Spirit.
Given Pentecostal proclamation that the charismatic and vocational work of the Spirit remains normative for all Christians, I cannot commend a better biblical and theological presentation of life in the Spirit. Is it a Pentecostal classic? If not yet, it’s only a matter of time.
Martin Mittelstadt, Ph.D., is associate professor of biblical studies, Evangel University, Springfield, Missouri.
1. For example, see Vinson Synan’s so-called history of the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements The Century of the Spirit: 100 Years of Pentecostal and Charismatic Renewal (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2001).