What is at stake in the argument over Spirit-baptism in contemporary discussion?
Module 404: The History and Theology of the Charismatic Movement.
What is at stake in the argument over Spirit-baptism in contemporary discussion?
With characteristic and prophetic forthrightness, John the Baptist declared Jesus to be “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1.29), “the Son of God” (1.34) and “the one on whom he saw the Spirit of God come down from heaven and remain on” (1.32). God told him directly that Jesus is the one who “will baptise with the Holy Spirit.” (1.33) The extension and comparison with his own ministry of baptising in water for repentance could not be put more starkly in the gospel narratives:
John answered them all, ‘I baptise you with water. But one more powerful than I will come… He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.’ (Luke 3.16)
The eschatological nature of this Messianic activity where judgement and blessing combine is reinforced in both Matthew and Luke.
He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing-floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire. (Matt 3.11b, 12)
The prophetic revelation that is demonstrated in perceiving these great eschatological boundary markers of how the Christ will come sets John the Baptist apart, a matter that Jesus himself affirmed (Matt 11.11). It is possible that the delay in their occurring caused him difficulty (Matt 11.2), as is often the case with prophetic and especially eschatological matters. To this we will return.
Luke- Acts has the resurrected Jesus taking up John’s declaration in the instructions given to his disciples prior to his ascension.
For John baptised with water, but in a few days you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit. (Acts 1.5)
The disciples are still thinking within the Jewish worldview of the kingdom being equated with political dominance for Israel. However Jesus deflects this and repeats his message that the Holy Spirit will “come on them”, that this is “gift of the Father” and what was “promised”, and that this will result in a receiving of power for the demonstration of himself to the world through them in an ever expanding mission context. (Acts 1.3-8).
From this declaration of Jesus, now confirming his identity as Baptiser in the Spirit perceived by John the Baptist, five out-workings of this promised event are woven into the account in Acts. As the story unfolds, it is clear from the language of Luke-Acts that the terms baptism in the Spirit, filling, coming upon, receiving, poured out upon, are all used in a co-referential manner123. Even in disputes about the precise meaning of the term baptism in the Spirit, this is not in question.
Firstly, and of great significance, although the extent of that significance is debated, in Jerusalem as the Spirit comes there are both visible and audible dimensions, with a corporate experience of the disciples being filled with the Holy Spirit without human agency. This led to somewhat unrestrained behaviour from the disciples, possibly akin to drunkenness, and spontaneous speaking of praise to God clearly intelligible to people from many nations, albeit with the disciples discernibly Galilean in origin. (Acts 2.1-13)
In Samaria, Philip the evangelist, a man “full of the Spirit”, proclaims Christ accompanied by miracles, healings and deliverance from demons. Many people believed and were baptised. However, for reasons not revealed in the text, the Holy Spirit did not immediately come upon them. In a sparsely written account this was remedied with the apostolic visit of Peter and John and the laying on of their hands. (Acts 8.4-17) The outcome of this action impresses a local wonder worker so much that he desires to purchase a franchise in their methodology, an action that doesn’t overly endear him to the apostles. (Acts 8.17-24).
The conversion of Saul to Christ occurs through direct, personal revelation of the ascended Jesus that gives him temporary blindness. After three days he is healed and filled with the Spirit at the hands of Ananias and is then baptised. (Acts 9.3-19)
The Gentiles first hear the gospel of Jesus from Peter, led by God through a combination of vision to Peter and angelic instruction to the Gentiles. Peter, coming to realise for the first time that God accepts men from every nation, preaches Jesus to Cornelius and his household leading to the climactic statement of salvation:
Everyone who believes in him (Jesus) receives forgiveness of sins through his name. (Acts 10.43)
While he was speaking, the Holy Spirit came on those listening. This was evident to all, as those present heard the new believers speaking in tongues and praising God. Peter instructed that they were to now be baptised. (Acts 10.44-48). This brings Peter into controversial debate with believers in Jerusalem critical of this new advance. His explanation references the promise of Jesus quoting John the Baptist to “baptise with the Holy Spirit”. (Acts 11.15-17). Of note in his explanation is the connection made between faith and the giving of the Spirit.
God gave them the same gift as he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ. (Acts 11.17)
Peter returns to this event in the later debate over the necessity or otherwise to circumcise believers.
God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them just as he did to us. He made no distinction between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. (Acts 15.8,9)
Of interest in the contemporary debate is the relationship between faith and gift and purification of heart, to which we will return.
Finally in Ephesus Paul finds some disciples. The priority of his enquiry was to establish that they had received the Holy Spirit when they believed. (Acts 19.2). Given a negative response, and indeed self-confessed ignorance even of the existence of the Holy Spirit Paul backtracks to establish of whom exactly they are disciples. As followers of John the Baptist, they gladly receive the message of Jesus and are baptised. Paul places his hands on them and the Holy Spirit comes on them which is evident through them speaking in tongues and prophesying. (Acts 19.1-7)
Baptism in the Spirit, or filling with the Spirit, or the Spirit coming, is therefore at the cusp of the interaction between theology and religious experience. It is not just of doctrinal interest. It carries through directly to personal experience. Dunn quotes Bultmann at the introduction of his second volume on this subject: Jesus and the Spirit.4
If a man must say that he cannot find God in the reality of his present life, and if he would compensate for this by the thought that God is nevertheless the final cause of all that happens, then his belief in God will be a theoretical speculation or a dogma; and however great the force with which he clings to this belief, it will not be true faith, for faith can be only the recognition of the activity of God in his own life.5
Jesus is presented in Luke-Acts teaching the disciples to expect him to baptise them in the Spirit. The teaching created a framework within which the experience of the teaching then occurred. Did the disciples fully understand this teaching? Possibly not, but it certainly enabled them to make sense of the experience after the event. In the preaching that followed the baptising, Peter cites the promise of the Spirit in Joel as being now fulfilled. (Joel 2.28-21, Acts 2.14-21). The pouring out of the Spirit has occurred, as God promised, on all his people. Of note later is the line that is added to this prophecy from Joel in the mouth of Peter “And they shall prophesy” (Acts 2.18), a further indication of the connection Luke makes between the coming of the Spirit and the release of prophetic utterance.
When this experience occurred again, as with Cornelius, it was held to validate other matters such as the person’s faith in Christ and acceptance by God. When the experience did not occur, this was either directly remedied, as with the Samaritans, or investigated and remedied, as with the Ephesians.
So which comes first? Do people theologise their experiences or does their theology govern which experiences they can have? Both are true, and the interaction and interplay between them is of great interest. However it is important to realise that in the contemporary debate, as in the historical debate on this matter, it is not just theology that is at stake, but the validating or otherwise of the individual’s experience and the interaction this has with their theological constructs. This can prove difficult and indeed fractious. But as Dunn wisely points out, from the very beginning the experience of the Spirit cannot be divorced from the theology of the Spirit, and indeed is foundational to it:
I readily acknowledge Paul’s debt to both Jew and Greek for the great bulk of his language and concepts. But his own writings bear eloquent and passionate testimony to the creative power of his own religious experience – a furnace which melted many concepts in its fires and poured them forth into new moulds… Nothing should be allowed to obscure that fact.6
Hence it might be noted, the somewhat personal nature of some of the contributions to the debate and the intensity of some of the positions held.
So what is at stake in the contemporary debate: many things.
Is baptism in the Spirit a term we should use now? Should it have the same currency as being born again, or repentance and faith, or being saved?
Is baptism in the Spirit an experience separate from conversion to Christ (understood as repentance and faith and in most cases the addition, or realisation, of baptism in water) and normally subsequent to that, i.e. a second blessing? Or is Spirit-baptism part of becoming a Christian and to be understood as integrated with conversion? This question gives rise to a fundamental issue: What is a Christian? What is the nature, identity and experience of being a follower of Christ? And therefore, what is discipleship? What expectations are there upon such a follower?
Digging deeper into the understanding of baptism in the Spirit itself: is such a baptism an experience of which the recipient is conscious of at the time? And if so, what are the manifestations? This leads immediately to a related question: is baptism in the Spirit observable by others and if so how? How certain can we be of these observations? These questions come together into a more reflective, after the event question: what evidence constitutes demonstration of having received Spirit- baptism?
Depending on how these questions are answered, perhaps the most sensitive question of all enters the arena: what of those Christians (and indeed those churches) who have no or little experience of or teaching on the baptism in the spirit and yet display many other great Christian virtues both in doctrine and practice? What is their position? What expectations should they have regarding the baptism in the Holy Spirit?
Is baptism in the Spirit a term we should use now? Should it have the same currency as being born again, or repentance and faith, or being saved?
What is at stake here is meaning and purpose. Turner argues that the phrase is “somewhat ambiguous”7 and he wants to limit its usage because, “bar that in 1 Cor 12.13... all are essentially references to just one saying of John the Baptist.”8 Turner even goes as far as suggesting that by the time of the Cornelius incident, baptism in the Spirit was something of a lost saying.
Furthermore Turner wants the reference in 1 Cor 12.13 to have a different meaning to those in Acts and the gospels. His interpretation of this text is that the Spirit is the agency, not the medium, so the Spirit does the baptising into the one body. This hinges on the Greek word “ev” meaning “by” in this instance rather than “in or with” as in the other references. Pawson, in his answer to Turner, draws on Stott who points out the expression is exactly the same in Greek in all occurrences and therefore most likely means the same thing in every occurrence.9
Probably of most significance is the case Turner makes that the Pentecost experience in Jerusalem and the re-enactment among the Gentiles with Cornelius are both eschatological events, and that the link back to the Baptist’s pronouncement that Luke makes is to align the church as a whole directly with John’s hope of the restoration of the Spirit filled community of the anointed Messiah. The phrase baptism in the Spirit therefore had an overarching purpose rather than having current application:
“Not an individualist promise of a series of Spirit-baptisms for each person: it was the promise that the messiah, mightily endowed with the Spirit, would restore and transform the community of Israel.”10
Pawson challenges this view with a number of arguments, whilst accepting that the New Testament writers do prefer other language to speak of the experience11. The presence of John the Baptist’s prophetic declaration in all four gospels is clearly significant. The use of the imperfect tense regarding his preaching also brings emphasis and a sense of repetition. And at Peter’s explanation of the Cornelius incident, his reference to this saying in Jesus pre-ascension teaching gives the expression greater authority, not less.
Dunn establishes that Jordan and Pentecost are both unique eschatological events that inaugurated the new era of the Spirit, first in the Messiah and then in his people.12 In his view, Luke repeats the phrase in the Cornelius incident because of the significance to him of the age of the Spirit coming for the first time to the Gentiles. However Dunn’s understanding is that this underlines Luke’s view of the inescapably initiatory nature of Spirit-baptism as part of the radical nature of conversion to Christ. So the inaugural, eschatological nature of the events of Pentecost invests deeper meaning in the phrase rather than render it less usable today.
My own view is that weight must be given to the prophetic eschatological revelation of the identity of Jesus through John the Baptist, and Jesus own reinforcement of this prior to his Ascension. It seems important that we should continue to describe Jesus as the baptiser with the Holy Spirit, just as we refer to him as the Lamb who takes away sin and the Son who sits on the Davidic throne, enjoying an “Abba” relationship with God. Whilst the NT writers use of a variety of expressions as they grapple with conceptualising and describing the depth and range of this experience of the Spirit, it seems wrong to put to one side this graphic term that joins the OT prophetic promises with John the Baptist’s revelation, with Jesus explanation, with the disciples’ own experience. Whilst it is right to acknowledge the uniqueness of both Jordan and Pentecost and their overarching eschatological significance, it is also true that in this, whilst retaining unrepeatable features, they provide a rich model for us who are also in “the last days” of the Spirit.
Is baptism in the Spirit an experience separate from conversion to Christ (understood as repentance and faith and in most cases the addition, or realisation, of baptism in water) and normally subsequent to that, i.e. a second blessing? Or is Spirit-baptism part of becoming a Christian and to be understood as integrated with conversion?
There is something of an historical journey here. Dunn summarises the development of the sacramental position, where a ritual governed by the church is held to be the point at which the Spirit comes.
The Catholic doctrine was a natural development over the centuries. When the Spirit became less the subject of experience and more the object of faith, and direct inspiration became suspect as a result of the Montanist excesses (and the finalizing of the canon) it was natural that the one very tangible and public element of conversion-initiation should become more and more the focus of attention. Water baptism could be regulated, whereas faith and the Spirit can not…. To all intents and purposes the Spirit became the property of the Church, with the gift of the Spirit tied to, and determined by a ritual act, and authority to bestow the Spirit confined to the Bishop.13
Protestantism was a reaction against the worse excesses of this position and sought to restore the rightful place of genuine faith in conversion to Christ. However the role of the Spirit was still overlooked as preaching and the response of faith took the place previously occupied by the sacraments as the means by which Christ comes, and Scripture was given the objective authority previously held by the Church. Sadly, although it was a great step forward to recover the place of faith, the result has too often been a dead orthodoxy not much different from a mechanical sacramentalism.
In terms of initiation both look to a single point of conversion and the gift of the Spirit. The sacramental place is infant water baptism, although in the West a “second blessing” has been introduced in confirmation, but again regulated at the hands of the bishop. The reformed evangelical place is that preaching the gospel leads to personal faith and that is the point at which the Spirit is given:
Consequently the NT repeatedly emphasizes that once individuals believe in Christ, once they are baptised in his name, and become Christians, then this gift of the Spirit is already theirs.14
Interestingly both catholic and evangelical teachers, grappling with the problem of lack of spiritual reality within churches, urge their readers to have faith in what Christ has already accomplished in them and, in varying ways, to actualise, experience, or live out that faith to greater measure. However there is also the sense of needing ‘something more’ from God in their writings. Tugwell describes NT baptism as “being reborn of water and Spirit”, leading a person into a whole new world of experience and truth, of a new heart, the renunciation of Satan and the experience of the Spirit of God. “Why”, he asks, “is it that so often our baptism shows so little signs of bearing fruit?” His answer is lack of obedience that obscures the effects of baptism, lack of prayer in which God works in us, and most interestingly,
What is required is a transformation at a level inaccessible to reason and deliberation alone.15
The Puritan movement, the holiness movements and the Wesleyan movement were all born with a desire for ‘something more’ from God in terms of reality of inner life with God, and the outworking of holy obedience to him. The contemporary scene is very influenced by the Pentecostal and neo-Pentecostal movements with their well defined doctrine of a second experience of the Spirit (the baptism of the Spirit) that is separate from and subsequent to conversion to Christ (being born again or regenerated by the Spirit). In all these movements the underlying motivation has been experiential rather than doctrinal. Dunn affirms this:
That the Spirit, and particularly the gift of the Spirit, was a fact of experience in the lives of the earliest Christians has been too obvious to require elaboration. It is a sad commentary on the poverty of our own immediate experience of the Spirit that when we come across language in which the NT writers refer directly to the gift of the Spirit and to their experience of it, either we automatically refer it to the sacraments… or else we discount the experiences described as too subjective and mystical in favour of a faith which is essentially an affirmation of biblical propositions.16
Dunn argues that the Pentecostal movement has been a blessing in that it has sort to re-establish the centrality and reality of experiencing the Spirit, but that by developing a “second blessing” doctrine the NT understanding of what it means to be a Christian has been radically undermined. The composite, but necessarily interlocking, features of what it means to become a Christian have each been fatally disconnected. Dunn expresses his view of the completeness of NT teaching on this matter epigrammatically:
Faith demands baptism as its expression
Baptism demands faith for its validity
The gift of the Spirit presupposes faith for its condition
Faith is shown to be genuine only by the gift of the Spirit.17
Dunn has been hugely influential in setting the shape and direction of the contemporary debate. Turner, responding to Pawson’s writings on the Spirit, suggests that this position is now “relatively uncontroversial, in that virtually all recent Pentecostal scholars with expertise on Luke-Acts agree.”18 Some are challenging the integrated conversion-initiation complex, but not from the non-Lukan material. And as Dunn himself points out:
To criticize me for reading Luke-Acts with Pauline spectacles is, of course, to acknowledge that my findings are sound so far as Paul was concerned.19
Menzies argues that the Samaritan episode demonstrates that Luke can accept the reality of believers who have not received the Spirit. He also draws a strong parallel between the Ephesian disciples (Acts 19.1-7) and the shortcomings of the teacher Apollos (Acts 18.24-26), and concludes that both were fully Christian, but needed to receive the Spirit. Menzies is also convinced from Luke-Acts that the gift of the Spirit is exclusively the gift of prophetic utterance and in a connected way the empowerment for witness, and that Luke does not accord the Spirit any soteriological functions.20 Part of what is at stake here is an integrated biblical pneumatology. Dunn’s persuasive case has pushed the Pentecostal argument almost to the point of creating a divergent theology of the Spirit between Luke and other biblical writers. Dunn argues that the Samaritan episode was to demonstrate the necessity of receiving the Spirit as part of Christian initiation rather than to give any insight into why the delay. The Ephesian disciples were not yet Christians, but became so. And the structuring of the text at both Pentecost and the Cornelius incident demonstrates the careful connectivity Luke makes between the coming of the Spirit and salvation.21
God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He made no distinction between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. (Acts 15.8,9)
What is at stake here is what does it mean to become a Christian, and therefore what is required in life as a disciple? From an experiential, pastoral position it is in many ways more straightforward to have a second blessing. If, from a sacramental point of view, the infant baptism hasn’t really produced the fruit of Christian faith, then an impartation of the Spirit from the Bishop gives an explanation as to why not, and proffers a solution. Similarly, for the Pentecostal, if Christian experience to this point seems deficient, and the mission of the church ineffective, then the second blessing of Spirit-baptism is both diagnosis and cure. The reality is, of course, that the cure often isn’t a re-enactment of the apparent endless excitement of Acts, and Pentecostal writers are usually even more vigorous in their urgings to greater obedience and faith. And the paradox is for Pentecostals, that given sufficient passing of time, there can be a ecclesiastical institutionalising of even the “Second Blessing” that can leave the church as bereft of genuine experience of the Spirit as any.
My own view is that Dunn’s defining of conversion-initiation in a fully rounded biblical manner has many advantages. It places faith at the centre, and so builds on the gains of the Reformers. It enables baptism to be rightly positioned as the response of that faith, and thus escape the errors of the sacramental, so strangely carried over into Protestantism. But, and probably most important of all, it enables God to own those who are his through the gift of his Spirit and therefore the completion of initiation into Christianity is placed outside the control of the ecclesiastical powers and even personal decision.
The Pentecostals have been right to insist on the recovery of genuine experience of the Spirit into Christianity. The problem is, by creating a second blessing, it hasn’t been recovered far enough: right into the heart of all that it means to become a Christian and therefore all that it means to be a disciple.
By placing Spirit-baptism at the beginning of Christian identity, it becomes fully part of Christian discipleship. We start in faith; we go on in faith. We start in obedient action; we go on in obedient action. We start repentant; we go on repentant. We start receiving the Spirit; we go on receiving the Spirit. It is here that the eschatological nature of the Spirit’s gift comes into its own. The Spirit is the power of the age to come. He is the down-payment of the longed-for Christian inheritance. Events at Jordan and Pentecost underline the eschatological aspect of all that the Spirit is and does. Therefore, in receiving the eschatological Spirit the Christian is rightly orientated towards the future but with the right expectations of the present. There is always more. But it is more of what has already come, not something new and disconnected. And it is more of God. So spiritual experience is not made into god, but God gives more experience of himself.
Is Spirit-baptism an experience of which the recipient is conscious of at the time? What are the manifestations? Is baptism in the Spirit observable by others and if so how? How certain can we be of these observations? What evidence constitutes demonstration of having received Spirit-baptism?
We begin with Jesus. The Synoptics closely link the water baptism of Jesus, with his receiving of the Spirit, with his conscious awareness of being the Son:
At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptised by John in the Jordan. As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” At once the Spirit sent him out into the desert, and he was in the desert for forty days being tempted by Satan. (Mark 1.9-13).
The gospel of John, whilst not recording the event itself, makes the same links between the baptising of John the Baptist, the descent of the Spirit upon Jesus, and the knowledge of his sonship. It also inferred that John the Baptist witnessed this event as well and understood it’s meaning (John 1.29-34). Whilst the details of these accounts are sparse, the seeing and hearing elements and the observed bodily type of the Spirit’s coming do constitute conscious experience. Jesus knew the Spirit had come, and so did John.
However the event of receiving the Spirit was not an end in itself but a launch into life and ministry with a continued experience of the Spirit. The Spirit remained. Dunn, in his work on Jesus and the Spirit asserts that:
Jesus thought of himself a God’s son and anointed by the eschatological Spirit, because in prayer he experienced God as Father and in ministry he experienced a power to heal which he could only understand as the power of the end-time and an inspiration to proclaim a message which he could only understand as the gospel of the end-time.22
Dunn in his examination of the effects of the Spirit’s presence in the life of Jesus looks at miracles, faith, authority, Jesus as a prophet, and questions whether Jesus was ecstatic in experience. His conclusion is not ecstatic but “charismatic”:
In the sense that he manifested a power and authority which was not his own, which he had neither achieved nor conjured up, but which was given him by virtue of the Spirit/power of God upon him.23
Dunn argues that Jesus was conscious of the Spirit empowering him, that this was manifested in effective power; that the eschatological tensions in Jesus’ teaching, and the profound sense of the kingdom coming now, stem immediately from his consciousness of the Spirit; that his sense of authority and inspiration from the Spirit set him in the tradition of Moses and the prophets and transcended this tradition, and finally that it is the interaction of sonship and Spirit that gives Jesus ministry its distinctive character.24
In my view, at the moment of the Spirit’s coming Jesus experienced personal prophetic revelation that was highly affirming and indeed the revealing of the love of God to him. He knew from this, and the experience itself, that the Spirit had come on him. This led him into a hunger for God and a decisive victory over evil, which then flowed out in manifestations of power and teaching with compelling authority, both an outworking of the Spirit upon him. The words and the works show him standing in the OT prophetic tradition of those anointed by the Spirit to speak and act for God. The prophetic tradition is revelatory (God reveals himself through his word), eschatological (the wonders of the goodness of God are set forth with both blessing and judgement combined), and authoritative (God is speaking through the agency of the anointed one). All this is useful background to understanding and interpreting the experiences of the Spirit by the early church, although the question remains as to the level of continuity and discontinuity between Jesus and believers.
It would appear that part of Menzies argument to maintain Spirit-baptism as an event separate to conversion is to protect the right emphasis on empowerment and prophetic enabling. His assessment of Luke-Acts is that:
Luke describes the gift of the Spirit exclusively in charismatic terms as the source of power for effective witness.25
Whether it be John in his mother’s womb, Jesus at the Jordan or the disciples at Pentecost, the Spirit comes on them all as the source of prophetic inspiration, empowering them to carry out their divinely appointed tasks.26
Menzies draws on the long quotation from Joel 2 in Acts 2 as further emphasis of Luke’s view of the empowering prophetic role of the Spirit, together with the insertion “and they shall prophesy” as final underlining of the function of the coming of the Spirit separate from conversion. For Menzies, prophetic impartation is inextricably linked with missiological purpose, something that the Pentecostal churches are noted for. His concern over Dunn’s contribution to synthesise Pentecostal contribution with older traditions is that:
Older traditions – might dull our sense of expectation, understanding and, ultimately, experience of the Pentecostal gift.27
This is of real concern. There is no doubt that the coming of the Spirit in the Acts accounts was observable commonly through release of tongues (themselves a prophetic act), prophecy and unrestrained declarations of the greatness of God. Dunn, in his response to Pentecostal critique of his position affirms this:
The Spirit for Luke is indeed pre-eminently the Spirit of prophecy, the Spirit that inspires speech and witness.28
However, as noted before, Dunn argues that Luke’s pneumatology is not restricted solely to this function, important though it is, but that Luke clearly links the gift of the Spirit to conversion-initiation in acceptance from God and faith in Christ. Even though Luke “encourages his readers to think of the Spirit in terms of the effects of the Spirit’s coming”29, it should not be assumed that “Luke thinks of the Spirit only as the power of inspiration”.
Turner, in his critique of Pawson’s work, takes this further and argues for a broadening out of the categories of what constitutes receiving the Spirit:
The ‘moment’ of Spirit reception might not so much be a consciousness of the Spirit (as such) as a profound and overwhelming experience of the Father’s love brought to us in the Son.30
Turner, drawing on is own experiences and right regard for the evident spirituality of the evangelical tradition, wishes to disconnect receiving the Spirit from what might be thought of as distinctively Pentecostal or charismatic experiences:
Those who have received Christ as a living, vital, relational, transforming and empowering presence have received the gift of the Spirit the New Testament is talking about.31
Pawson refutes this something of this, wanting to maintain Acts as a normative description of right expectations regarding Spirit-baptism:
All the NT evidence supports the notion the notion of an immediate awareness of the Spirit being poured out, both by the recipients themselves and any observers present at the time, who saw and heard.32
Fee, a Pentecostal writer who agrees with Dunn on conversion-initiation supports this:
The Spirit was not only experienced in conversion, but was experienced in a dynamic, undoubtedly visible way.33
When it comes to practice, Dunn identifies at least four different paradigms, based on differences between the NT writers. Luke emphasises the vitality of prophetic, eschatological experience of the Spirit but leaves many questions unanswered. Paul paints a picture of a charismatic community with diverse expressions of the Spirit. Post-Pauline pastorals seem to have subordinated all to the preservation of the received traditions and are in danger of stifling the prophetic. Finally John (which Dunn places late on the time-line) maintains the experience of the Spirit, but individualises it and removes the eschatological tensions.34
My own view is that both Turner and Pawson are both right in what they assert but wrong in what they deny. It seems right that the expected priority of experience at Spirit-baptism is an empowering for mission (Acts 1.8) and that the immediate expression of that is in inspired, prophetic, authoritative declaration of God by the people of God (Acts 2.1-41). This brings church into line with the prophetic tradition which Jesus himself fulfilled to whom the church is now commissioned to witness. To be anointed by the Spirit is to preach good news to the poor. (Isaiah 61.1) And this blessing, this light, is for all nations. (Gen 12.2,2 and Isaiah 42-44). The Spirit enables justice to come to the nations, God’s praise to the ends of the earth.
Joel 2 is rightly the OT scripture on Peter’s lips at Pentecost: “they shall all prophesy” (Acts 2.18). But other scriptures are in view here as well, notably Jeremiah’s prophetic expectation of a new covenant people who will all know the Lord (Jer 31.34). As it was for Jesus, to know God in the Spirit is to speak for God and to declare the wonders of God (Acts 2.11). Not to give this prophetic, empowered, God centred, mission focused expression to the coming of the Spirit seems to create too much discontinuity with Jesus, who sends us as he himself was sent (John 20.21).
However it seems churlish and unbiblical not to affirm that the workings of the Spirit and the evidences of his gift are manifested in a variety of expressions. Whether Dunn’s paradigms are right or not, to insist on a narrow range of Spirit inspired experience as the evidence of baptism in the Spirit seems to be going too far. Other factors are in play here, not least the personality of those receiving and their expectations at the time. Luke’s use of the narrative of the Spirit coming is to cause us to expect prophetic expression, but is not to insist upon it. And to create sub-categories of Christian, with the Spirit indwelling but not empowering, or the Spirit on but not in or vice versa, looks difficult. A Christian is either in the Spirit or is not a Christian (Rom 8.9). Hence the subtle return, often unspoken, to second blessing theologies at least in practice. I am not sure we have enough definition to draw up a complete list of what observable manifestations count.
Two aspects are important here. Firstly, the Spirit is the eschatological Spirit, the power of the age to come. His coming to us is always in an eschatological tension. There is evidence, but there is also incompleteness. There is something, but there is also more. Hence the difficulty in being too prescriptive. Secondly, the Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus, the Spirit of adoption into him. The Spirit is relational. He is God, not just power or experience. Knowing God gives rise to expression, just as in any relationship. But at the heart of the Spirit’s coming is the gift of a direct relationship with none other than God himself in the person of Jesus. “A new heart and a new spirit”, promises Ezekiel (Ez 36.24-27). Whilst the scripture causes us to expect to be a prophetically empowered people, it places final emphasis on the evidence of the heart.
This also needs some qualification because from a pastoral point of view, the difficulties and shortcomings people have in forming relationships and experiencing the love of another are also expressed in their relation to God. That which receives affirmation, revelation, empowering or love from another person is also required in the receiving of the Spirit. So over prescription and dogmatism in definition can place people under a burden of expectation that is in contradiction to the Spirit given as a grace gift. The eschatological nature of the Spirit is also a factor in the relational aspect. “We know in part”, says Paul, whilst holding out the firm eschatological hope that we shall know fully, even as we are fully known (1 Cor 13.12).
Therefore it seems right to assert that the baptism in the Spirit is an experience that a believer can determine has happened. Awareness of the Spirit’s presence with spontaneous, prophetic inspiration and declaration are to be expected, even encouraged. Aspects of power and launching into mission are natural out-workings. Prophetic affirmations and love from God that bring a powerful sense of identity are also evidential. A fresh hunger for God and victory over evil that conquer other appetites are much to be expected. However to be too prescriptive is to either be too mechanistic or to lose sight of the reality of the variety that is the experience and manifestation of the Spirit.
So what of those Christians (and indeed those churches) who have no or little experience of or teaching on the baptism in the spirit and yet display many other great Christian virtues both in doctrine and practice? I don’t know is the true answer to that question. At least not without more detailed personal, pastorally motivated enquiry. And perhaps there is an echo of John’s gospel here:
What is that to you? You must follow me. (John 21.22)
Carson D.A. The Gospel according to John (IVP, Leicester, 1991)
Dunn James D.G., Baptism in the Spirit: A response to Pentecostal scholarship on Luke-Acts. JPT 3 (1993), 3-27.
Dunn James D.G., Baptism in the Holy Spirit (SCM Press, London, 1970)
Dunn James D.G., Jesus and the Spirit (SCM Press, London, 1975)
Ervin Howard M., Spirit Baptism a biblical investigation (Hendrickson Publishers Inc., Massachusetts, 1987).
Fee Gordon D., God’s empowering Presence (Hendrickson, Massachusetts, 1994)
McDonnell Kilian, Montague George T., Christian initiation and Baptism in the Holy Spirit (The Liturgical Press, Minnesota, 1991)
Menzies Robert P., Luke and the Spirit: A reply to James Dunn. JPT 4 (1994), 115-138.
Pawson David, Believing in Christ and Receiving the Spirit: A response to Max Turner. JPT 15 (1999), 33-48
Stibbs A.M., Packer J.I., The Spirit within you (Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1967)
Tugwell Simon, Did you receive the Spirit? Revised Ed (Darton, Longman and Todd, 1978)
Turner Max, Receiving Christ and Receiving the Spirit: in dialogue with David Pawson. JPT 15 (1999), 3-31
Turner Max, The Holy Spirit and Spiritual gifts. Then and Now. (Paternoster Press, Carlisle, 1996).