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John Levison: Filled with the Spirit

Levison hints that the endowment of the Spirit is an intensification of the natural attributes of men and women, established by the creative and also recreative power of the Spirit. It is a blending of “an ecstatic atmosphere and mental acuity” (p 362). Thus, again in speaking of Luke’s presentation in Acts,

While set in a context that portends a rich experience of ecstasy, the Pentecost experience entails a heightening of the native abilities of Jesus’ followers, and a heightening that is aimed at a uniquely viable interpretation of scripture (p 348).

In other words, it is the experience, including ecstatic, of the Spirit of God that enables the increased ability of Peter and others to speak in a manner that shows Jesus as the fulfilment of the covenant promises of God, as found in the Holy Scriptures.

Likewise, with Paul, “Being filled with the spirit … is not a spiritual transformation that takes place on a sphere other than the human and earthly. It is not an experience that transpires without a radical revision of reality” (p 278). Levison perceives that, for Paul, an experience of the Spirit constitutes a new humanity, the people becoming a new Temple for the dwelling of God (p 283ff). “The Spirit exists in the community in a way that transcends individual believers. It is the community, not merely a collection of spirit-filled individuals, that establishes the spirit of holiness” (p 288). Levison, in exploring how this leads to examining sexual practices and the need for clear parameters that Paul insists upon, comments, “What is at stake is the holiness of the community and not just the holiness of individuals … relationships both within the community and with those outside are intended to make others holy” (p 299).

In other regards, the present reviewer finds a small disappointment in this work, in that the challenge of upholding the canonicity of Scripture does not lie upon Levison’s shoulders. Thus, in speaking of 1 John, he can remark, “This is a prophetic community, the legitimate heirs of the elders who received from the spirit that was upon Moses. Prophets, therefore, remain, they are the pivotal means of revelation. Teachers, he communicates with consummate clarity, are banished to oblivion” (p 421).

However, this is an important study and is to be commended to readers. Levison does not attempt to resolve what he sees as different perceptions of the spirit in different New Testament writings. In this he is disappointing, in that he is offering no more than a comparison of styles of literature. At the same time, the questions that he raises—the relation between the Spirit who is there in Creation and the Spirit who inhabits the lives of Christians—an important one. His work helps us engage with this greater question.

Reviewed by Jim Purves

Publisher’s page: www.eerdmans.com/Products/6372/filled-with-the-spirit.aspx

Correction: When originally published, this review was attributed to another author and not Jim Purves. The editors regret the error.

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Category: Spirit, Winter 2014

About the Author: James Purves, Ph.D. (University of Aberdeen, Scotland), has been serving in pastoral ministry since 1980 and is presently Mission and Ministry Advisor to the Baptist Union of Scotland. He is a research tutor at the International Baptist Theological Seminary, Prague, Czech Republic and author of The Triune God and the Charismatic Movement (Paternoster, 2004). His blog is http://jimpurves.blogspot.com

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