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Frank Macchia: Jesus the Spirit Baptizer

The second part of the book probes the heart of the history of Jesus by examining in the reverse light of Pentecost the Incarnation and anointing of Christ. What Macchia is after is the interdependence of events: that the life of Jesus finds its climax in Pentecost because Pentecost depends on the life (death and resurrection) of Jesus. The brilliant and passionate minimalism of this argument surfaces again and again in Macchia’s endeavor to read Pentecost “back into the triune life itself” (131) so that God can ultimately appear as the God of Pentecost. Of pivotal significance for this task is arguably Jesus’ own reception of the Spirit, and Macchia discusses, respectively, the impact of the Spirit-baptized Christ on Israel, the coming of God, the temple, prayer, justice of the kingdom, the Law, table fellowship, healing, and death, interpreted as Jesus’ baptism of fire. At all points, the primary concern is to show that Jesus’ anointing is essential for understanding the crucifixion, resurrection, and Pentecost. Ultimately, Macchia speaks of “the victory of Spirit over fire baptism” (300) at Pentecost because in the outpouring of the Spirit it is Jesus who imparts his own life to the church,

Jesus the Spirit Baptizer is destined to become a standard Christological resource for Pentecostals and others. We may debate the adequacy of applying the promise of a baptism with fire only to Jesus’ own history rather than to the church. Is it necessary to distinguish Spirit and fire as different promises rather than elements of the same? This distinction may raise the question whether the baptism(s) of Jesus and the baptism of the church are qualitatively different forms of Spirit baptism. A dissimilar answer would also shed a diverse light on the chief questions of Christology that Macchia pursues with this work. In turn, one could debate if the book identifies the actual act of Spirit baptism in sufficiently Christological terms, that is, what Jesus, risen and ascended by the Spirit, actually does to pour out the Spirit, and how the church, in turn, receives this baptism poured out by rising and ascending in the Spirit as the body of Christ. But Macchia may have had other intentions, widely reflected in the range of ecumenical sources. The book is a conversation starter for a new way to read the life, death and resurrection of Christ in the light of Pentecost. As such, Macchia emerges as a trailblazer for a Pentecostal theology that takes seriously the importance of Pentecost as its chief hermeneutical horizon for understanding the key events of the Christian faith.

As the work of one of the most prominent Pentecostal theologians on one of the most significant Pentecostal themes, it is surprising to see that Macchia engages with very few Pentecostal sources on the question of Christology. His work consults no historical texts, liturgical documents, or practices of the pioneering years of the movement and very few contemporary Pentecostal resources. Hence, while the book is a milestone in Pentecostal Christology, it does not reflect the state of Pentecostal scholarship and its many contributions to the articulation of the full gospel and its climactic proclamation of Jesus as the Spirit baptizer. This neglect may suggest that, while Pentecostals have written much about Jesus, they have not actually contributed significantly to the chief questions of Christology. Indeed, there are very few Pentecostal works that deal with primary theological data on the person and work of Christ, and it is here that the book excels. What Macchia’s work shows the Pentecostal scholarly guild is a way forward to engage in mainstream theology without succumbing to its dominant structures that too often ignore Pentecostal sensitivities.

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Category: Spirit, Summer 2020

About the Author: Wolfgang Vondey, Ph.D. (Marquette University) and M.Div. (Church of God Theological Seminary), is Professor of Christian Theology and Pentecostal Studies at the University of Birmingham, UK. He is an ordained minister with the Church of God (Cleveland, TN). His research focuses on ecclesiology, pneumatology, theological method, and the intersection of theology and science.

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