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Roger Stronstad: Spirit, Scripture, and Theology

Roger Stronstad, Spirit, Scripture, and Theology: A Pentecostal Perspective, Second Edition (APTS Press, 2018).

Roger Stronstad is probably best known for his master’s-thesis-turned-book, The Charismatic Theology of St. Luke (1985) [Editor’s note: See the review by Dave Johnson], which is considered by some to be the start of a new generation of Pentecostal scholarship and literature, and is possibly one of the most-assigned texts in Pentecostal Bible colleges and seminaries. Stronstad is also well-known for his book The Prophethood of All Believers (1999) [Editor’s note: See Amos Yong’s review of Prophethood].

Spirit, Scripture, and Theology: A Pentecostal Perspective was first published in 1995 as a collection of essays presented by Stronstad in a guest lectureship at the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary in Springfield, Missouri (chapters one, two, six, and seven) and papers presented at three different annual meetings of the Society for Pentecostal Studies (chapters three, four, and five). This updated 2018 edition includes the addition of a new, eighth chapter that investigates how Luke, John, and Paul present the ministry of Jesus (and His Spirit-empowered followers) as the “rebirth of the prophet’s ministry which was born in the leadership of Moses and his associates” (159).

The first chapter, “Trends in Pentecostal Hermeneutics,” provides a historical survey of the hermeneutical approaches practiced by various Pentecostals. Charles F. Parham’s “pragmatic” hermeneutic (also called the classical Pentecostal approach) focuses on the work of the Spirit as empowerment for service. Gordon D. Fee’s “genre” hermeneutic points out that the literary genre of a particular biblical text weighs heavily in how it should be interpreted. Howard M. Ervin’s “pneumatic” approach seeks to deal with the tension between faith and reason, the excessive rationalism that sometimes plagues critical-historical exegesis, and the mysticism of pietistic movements. Finally, William W. Menzies’ “holistic” hermeneutic, which looks at three levels: inductive (scientific exegesis), deductive (biblical theology), and verification (where experience, rather than establishing theology, verifies or demonstrates theological truth).

Chapter two deals with how hermeneutics is applied to Luke’s historiography. Stronstad points out that Luke is first of all a historian, and therefore, both Luke and Acts should be approached as two parts of one history, rather than the first as an evangelistic document and only the second treatise as a history. The similarities of Luke’s approach to that of his Jewish contemporary, Josephus, are examined, as well as the differences between the two writers. Whereas Luke’s contemporary, Josephus, laments the passing of prophetic revelation from the Jewish people, Luke celebrates the renewal of prophecy among faithful Jews that then spills over to Gentiles as they come to accept Jesus and be grafted into God’s people (23). Overall, the author views Luke as presenting the history of Jesus and the early Christian movement as the continuation of the chosen people of Israel.

Stronstad advocates strongly for using the Bible’s own terms for the Spirit’s activity: filled with the Holy Spirit.

Chapter three, “Pentecostal Experience and Hermeneutics,” discusses how the personal experiences of modern Pentecostal believers provides a context that aids in understanding the New Testament texts. Christian scholars in the generations between the primitive church and 1900 often struggled to understand what the early believers’ experiences of the Spirit were like. But present-day Pentecostal and Charismatic believers have had analogous, if not identical, experiences, and therefore gain additional insight into the meaning of the texts. If that line of reasoning makes one think of Craig Keener’s 2016 work, Spirit Hermeneutics, it shouldn’t be a surprise, as Keener cites both the first and third chapters of this book in that volume (albeit from their initial publication as separate articles in the journal Paraclete).

Although Stronstad gives Pentecostal experience great importance in shaping interpretation, he consistently places primary importance on what the biblical texts actually say. He advocates strongly for using the Bible’s own terms for the Spirit’s activity, as evidenced in the closing paragraph of the fourth chapter, “’Filled with the Holy Spirit’ Terminology in Luke-Acts”:

Luke gives pride of place to the term, “filled with the Holy Spirit,” rather than to the term, “baptized with the Holy Spirit.” Thus, “filled with the Holy Spirit,” and not “baptized with the Holy Spirit,” is to be the center of our own pneumatology. Our task, therefore, is not to make our pneumatology Reformed, Wesleyan, or Pentecostal, per se, but, to make it biblical. In other words, rather than trying to conform Luke’s pneumatology to ours, we must conform our pneumatology to his. (77-78)

Chapter five, “Signs on the Earth Beneath,” consists of a discussion of hermeneutical method for interpreting Luke-Acts, followed by an in-depth exposition of Acts 2:1–21. According to Stronstad, hermeneutics has three elements: the interpreter’s presuppositions, principles that guide exegesis, and principles that guide application to Christian living today. He then goes on to demonstrate how these factors interact as he walks through the Pentecost narrative. This chapter is a useful guide for taking concepts and principles and making them real by showing them in action in Pentecostal exegesis.

In the sixth chapter, “The Holy Spirit in Luke-Acts,” Stronstad makes the case for Luke having the “most fully developed Christology, in that it is an Old Testament Christology, incarnational, and the most fully Trinitarian” (116). Luke has the fullest presentation of Jesus as the prophet promised by Moses, sent by the Father and anointed and empowered by the Spirit. The Spirit coming on Jesus at his baptism, and the Spirit descending on the disciples at Pentecost, are about anointing for mission, not initiation/incorporation as some interpreters present Spirit baptism (130).

Chapter seven is about “Unity and Diversity: Lucan, Johannine, and Pauline Perspectives on the Holy Spirit.” Whereas Protestant interpretation has often tended to emphasize the unity of these authors, Stronstad here examines how each of these biblical authors have a unity around the Christ event, yet at the same time their diverse religious backgrounds give them diverse perspectives. Luke deals with the Holy Spirit in terms of service; John writes about the Spirit’s role in service and salvation; and Paul involves the Spirit in service, salvation, and sanctification (155).

Chapter eight, “The Rebirth of Prophecy: Trajectories from Moses to Jesus and His Followers,” is the new material added to the 2018 edition of this work. Here Stronstad discusses how the ministries of John the Baptizer and Jesus restored the prophetic function to God’s people. He especially focuses on the parallels between Jesus and Moses (the Mount of Transfiguration as an echo of Sinai, and Jesus’ impending exodus in relation to Israel’s national exodus). Just as prophesying was the sign that the elders of Israel had received the spirit that was on Moses, inspired prophetic speech at Pentecost is the sign that the disciples have received the Spirit that anointed Jesus (171).

In conclusion, Spirit, Scripture, and Theology: A Pentecostal Perspective is an informative read on the subject of Pentecostal hermeneutics by one of the foremost writers in the classical Pentecostal tradition. It takes themes that Roger Stronstad first addressed in his classic The Charismatic Theology of St. Luke and further develops them. This updated edition of the book brings Stronstad’s insight to a new generation of readers in the Spirit-empowered tradition.

Reviewed by Brian Roden

 

Wipf & Stock page (N. American distributor): https://wipfandstock.com/9781532680311/spirit-scripture-and-theology-2nd-edition/

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Category: Biblical Studies, Winter 2022

About the Author: Brian P. Roden is a fourth-generation Pentecostal, raised in the Assemblies of God. He holds a BS in Computer and Information Science (1991) from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, and an MA in Theological Studies (2017) from the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary. He received ordination with the Assemblies of God in 2014. Brian blogs at www.BrianRoden.com, and teaches in both English and Spanish at his home church in North Little Rock, Arkansas, where he resides with his wife Diana (a native of Mexico). They have two daughters.

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