Missional pneumatology: is the Spirit active outside the church?

The piece I wrote last week on the difficulties that post-charismatics can have finding an honest place for the gifts of the Spirit in a justice-oriented “missional” framework provoked a rather aggrieved response from Michael Frost on Facebook. That appears to have been largely a matter of misunderstanding, for which I must take some responsibility. It was cleared up, more or less, in the comments. But as part of his response, in order to show that the missional movement has a strong pneumatology, Michael put up a series of excerpts from his chapter in a book called Following Fire, edited by Cheryl Catford. There is much in this material that seems uncontroversial—or perhaps better, controversial in a good way. This paragraph, for example, sums up rather well at least part of what I was trying to say in my misunderstood post:

But if the Holy Spirit is present in a local congregation then surely he would be saying more to us than that we are loved by the Father. Certainly the Spirit’s work is that of building up the assurance of the individual disciple, but we must adopt a stance that reckons the Spirit’s voice also calls us to champion justice, to demonstrate mercy and to announce the Lordship of Jesus and that these callings have practical, local outworkings.

But one section stands out—to my mind—as being seriously problematic if we are going to maintain continuity with a biblical understanding of the Spirit and mission. Under the heading “The Spirit Beyond the Church” Michael makes the following assertions….

How might the post-charismatic “missional” church rediscover the gifts of the Spirit?

We had an interesting session on the gifts of the Spirit last night in Harlesden. Many in the church are from a charismatic background but seemed wary about pursuing the conversation. One young woman put the choice rather starkly—she could spend her time praying that someone’s back-ache would improve, or she could work for social justice.

For many in the missional, postmodern-evangelical—or whatever we want to call it—camp the whole charismatic phenomenon appears now as a claustrophobic, self-indulgent, sensationalist, stultifying, and all too often abusive aberration. If we are not bored with it, we are confused by it. If we are not confused by it, we have been let down by it. If we have not been let down by it, we have been badly burnt by it. The bottom line? We don’t want to go back there. Can we please now just get on and do something useful in the world?

Why does Jesus give the kingdom back in the end and become subject again to God?

Bob Macdonald is feeling a little grumpy but he asks a good question about Paul’s belief i) that at the end Jesus will deliver the kingdom to God the Father, and ii) that “the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all” (1 Cor. 15:24-28). Bob wonders:

…how can one who is Lord, and who is given the Name that is above every name, refuse his own identity at the end? What roots in the OT resonate with this? It almost seems like groundless theological speculation.

True, there is nothing in the Old Testament that would directly account for this eschatological twist—at least, nothing that I can think of. But I wouldn’t dismiss it as “groundless theological speculation”.

Is Jesus included in the “divine identity” in 1 Corinthians 8:6?

Following a bit of an exchange on Facebook, I have been looking again at the now widely accepted contention, associated especially with Wright, Bauckham and Fee, that in 1 Corinthians 8:6 Paul has taken the extraordinary step of including Jesus in the Shema and therefore in the divine identity. The Shema reads: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord” (Deut. 6:4 LXX). The argument is that Paul has taken this traditional confession and divided it between the Father and the Son: “for us one God, the Father, from whom all things and we for him, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things and we through him” (1 Cor. 8:5-6).

The book of Acts as political-religious narrative

I’ve put this up for a couple of reasons. First, I’m pulling together some ideas for teaching on Acts at a mission conference in the summer, and a rough narrative outline is a good place to start, though how much use I’ll make of it remains to be seen.

Secondly, someone got in touch recently asking if I could recommend a commentary on Acts that takes a narrative-historical line. Not really, to be honest. I imagine Tom Wright’s Acts for Everyone - Part 1 Chapters 1-12 (New Testament for Everyone) (Chapters 1-12 Pt. 1) would go some way in the right direction. I’m also looking forward to Steve Walton’s commentary when it eventually appears. Robert Wall reads Acts as part of a “master” story about “what God has done to bring salvation to the world” (, 18). That rather downplays the “kingdom” motif, I think. I haven’t made much use of Craig Keener’s incomplete , but judging by the introduction it appears to take a more or less standard approach—historical-critical, on the one hand, salvation-historical, on the other.

Who are the “elect” in Jesus’ apocalyptic discourse?

I argued in a couple of posts recently that Jesus’ apocalyptic discourse in Matthew 24 has reference exclusively to the siege of Jerusalem, the destruction of the temple, and the significance of this catastrophe for Jesus’ disciples. I maintain, in agreement with Dick France on this point, that the paragraph about the shaking of the heavens, the appearance of the Son of Man, and the sending out of the angels speaks of circumstances that would transpire in conjunction with the fall of Jerusalem (Matt. 24:29-31). See It’s not eschatology, folks, it’s just a story and Assessing Dick France’s argument about the parousia of the Son of Man in Matthew.

The imagery of abnormal cosmic darkness is commonly used in the Old Testament for judgment on a city or nation. The tribes of the land will see the Son of Man who suffered—that is, Jesus—vindicated, and coming with power and glory. He will “send out his angels to gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other”. As these things unfold, the disciples will know that the Son of Man is at the gates, their redemption is drawing near, the kingdom of God is near (Matt. 24:33; Lk. 21:28, 31).

Assessing Dick France’s argument about the parousia of the Son of Man in Matthew

In a comment on my recent post It’s not eschatology, folks, it’s just a story Ian Paul kindly took me to task for not consulting Dick France’s The Gospel of Matthew (New International Commentary on the New Testament). I used France’s commentary on Mark when writing The Coming of the Son of Man: New Testament Eschatology for an Emerging Church, but the Matthew commentary came out a couple of years later. I have since got hold of a copy, and I have to say, it hasn’t changed my view.

France’s argument is basically that whereas in Mark 13 Jesus speaks only about the fall of Jerusalem and its significance for the renewal of God’s people, in Matthew 24-25 he makes a fundamental temporal distinction between the vindication of the Son of Man in conjunction with the destruction of the temple and the parousia of the Son of Man at the close of the age. There are five main lines of support for this argument, which I have summarized below. I give my reasons for not being persuaded. Be warned. It’s a little complex….

It’s not eschatology, folks, it’s just a story

I spent some time with the staff of a church in south London this week talking about “eschatology”. Which is half the problem. As long as we treat eschatology as a more or less independent sub-section of—or worse, appendix to—our general theology, we have no frame of reference, nowhere to anchor it. So my argument was that eschatology is simply an aspect or part of the story, just as soteriology and ecclesiology and pneumatology are not independent topics but ways of speaking about what is going on in a narrative. Take the arguments and beliefs out of the story and they have no real reason to exist.

To make the point, we went through the “apocalyptic discourse” in Mark 13 looking at how Jesus draws on the scriptures to tell a compelling story about the real and foreseeable future of first century Israel and to explain to his disciples what it will mean for them. Here I will do the same thing with Matthew 24, setting the passage in the context of Jesus’ final week in order to underline the point that this is not free-floating teaching on the end times. It arises directly out of the preceding events.

Plotting the kingdom: now and not yet and not like that

In order to keep my knee-jerk prejudices against certain aspects of traditional evangelical theology in good working order I have been reading Understanding the Big Picture of the Bible: A Guide to Reading the Bible Well, edited by Grudem, Collins and Schreiner. What I have been looking for is examples of how theologians really don’t get narrative, and I have not been disappointed. Thomas R. Schreiner begins the section on the New Testament by affirming that biblical theology, unlike systematic theology, “concentrates on the historical story line of the Bible”, and then proceeds to outline “some of the main themes of New Testament theology” (109). In other words, he’s incapable of dealing with the “historical story line” without systematizing it.

The first of the main themes is the “already-not-yet” of the kingdom, which Schreiner thinks “dominates the entire New Testament and functions as a key to grasping the whole story”. I’ve discussed this before, but I’ll discuss it again.

Two narratives of the cross for Good Friday

There is a simple, universal or cosmic or existential narrative of the cross—the horizontal beam. Humanity has fallen, every individual person has sinned and must go by way of the cross to gain eternal life. But, for all its merits, this is a theological abstraction. It is not the biblical narrative.

The biblical narrative of the cross is not universal or cosmic or existential and it is nothing like as simple. It is historical—the vertical piece, which sustains whatever else we may wish to say.

It arises out of the story of ancient Israel. The brutal execution of Jesus by the Romans is a critical moment in the story of how the descendants of Abraham made the long and arduous journey from exile to empire, from judgment to justification, from sin to forgiveness, from Law to Spirit, from death to the life of the age to come.

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