Contemporary Pentecostal systematic theologians are discussing Spirit baptism in a way that includes, but goes beyond, traditional Pentecostal emphases. Historically most Pentecostals have emphasized that any believer can be baptized in the Spirit, that this experience empowers believers for witness (Acts 1:8), and that the experience is accompanied by speaking in tongues.
The Growth of Pentecostal Scholarship
Many people would say that Pentecostal scholarship did not really come into its own until after 1970, when James Dunn published his critique of Pentecostal theology. Dunn argued that Spirit baptism occurs at conversion. In other words, whenever someone becomes a believer, they receive the Spirit as a Spirit baptism (consider 1 Corinthians 12:13).
Pentecostal biblical scholars, like Roger Stronstad and Robert Menzies, responded to Dunn by focusing on the books of Luke and Acts (both written by Luke). They first argued that even though Luke primarily presents historical narrative, Luke is still a theologian, not just Paul. They continued by arguing that Luke presents Spirit baptism as a post-conversion experience where the Spirit empowers believers for witness.
Pentecostal Systematic Theology Today
As time has passed Pentecostal scholarship has matured as scholars have engaged many topics and disciplines. You can see this in academic book series like Pentecostal Manifestos and the more established Journal for Pentecostal Theology Supplement Series.
At the same time, Pentecostal scholars have continued to think about Spirit baptism. Today, every Pentecostal systematic theologian publishing on the issue is expressing an expansive understanding of Spirit baptism, which includes, but is not limited to, the common classical Pentecostal emphasis on a post-conversion experience of Spirit baptism as expressed by Luke.
Frank Macchia on Spirit Baptism
Frank Macchia, an Assemblies of God theologian, is one of the most influential Pentecostal systematic theologians on this issue. In his book Baptized in the Spirit: A Global Pentecostal Theology he presents Spirit baptism not as a one-time experience (or even a repeatable experience), but rather as a process identified with the coming of the kingdom of God.
That is, according to Macchia the process of Spirit Baptism began at Pentecost, continues still, and will continue until the full consummation of the kingdom of God. For the individual believer, this means that Spirit baptism encompasses one’s reception of the Spirit at conversion, any post-conversion sanctifying or empowering experience of the Spirit, and even one’s being raised by the Spirit at the return of Christ.
Macchia believes he is justified to integrate the diverse biblical voices (e.g., Luke and Paul) that utilize the metaphor of Spirit baptism on account of the metaphor’s connection to the expansive concept of the kingdom of God. For example, in Acts 1:3 Jesus appeared to the apostles and “spoke about the kingdom of God.” As he did this, Jesus told them, “in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit” (verse 5). (Consider also Matthew 3:2, 11.)
If Spirit Baptism is, as Macchia proposes, a lengthy process of the coming of the kingdom of God, then what link is there between Spirit baptism and speaking in tongues? Macchia describes tongues as the “characteristic sign of Spirit baptism…because they symbolize God’s people giving themselves abundantly in a way that transcends limitations and creaturely expectations” (p. 281). In this sense, tongues serves as the decisive sign that confirms the experience of being baptized in the Holy Spirit.
Macchia emphasizes that one cannot divide and fragment the work of the Spirit as though the Holy Spirit only does one thing at a time. This means that Pentecostals cannot claim that non-Pentecostals (in as much as they too have experienced the Holy Spirit) have not been empowered by the Holy Spirit to any extent, as though this only occurs when one speaks in tongues. At the same time, Macchia affirms that Pentecostals are “justified in calling Christians to a Spirit baptism [subsequent to conversion] as a fresh experience of power for witness with charismatic signs following” (p. 60).
Macchia believes Spirit baptism is about more than just receiving power for witness if that only means inspired speech. Instead, the Spirit’s empowerment includes sanctification, as the Spirit enables believers to witness through sanctified lives.
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You might also be interested in these posts:
- Spirit Baptism in Current Pentecostal Theology: Part 2 – Amos Yong
- “Why do PENTECOSTALS care so much about SPIRIT BAPTISM?”
- 3 Ways People Misunderstand Tongues as “Initial Evidence” of Spirit Baptism