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Tony Richie on Kingdom of Heaven and Justification

Probably Professor McKnight’s oversight is due to the piece’s brevity. However, some make the Spirit’s person and work peripheral to gospel. Theologically that doesn’t work well—not even for non-Pentecostals. The renowned Roman Catholic scholar, Yves Congar, one of the great pneumatologists of recent times, had a succinct dictum that is telling: “no Christology without pneumatology and no pneumatology without Christology.”2 If Christology, as McKnight maintains, is at the center of the gospel, then pneumatology is right there alongside it.

Yet pneumatological amnesia is a particular problem for Pentecostals and Charismatics. Although I was raised in a Pentecostal background, as a young adult believer I became closely associated with a non-Pentecostal evangelical congregation. Eventually, my Bible study and prayer life led me into seeking a deeper experience of the Holy Spirit. To dissuade me, a preacher friend from that congregation visited my home. He plaintively asked me why I couldn’t just focus on Jesus and forget about the Holy Spirit. My reply was that I couldn’t focus on the Lord Jesus without the Holy Spirit’s assistance (quoting 1 Corinthians 12:3). Now I ask, “Can we truly re-centralize Jesus without the Holy Spirit?” My reply: “I don’t think so!” Yet as Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen has said, there’s a regrettable tendency within certain ranks of Christianity toward “forgetfulness of the Spirit” or even “oblivion of the Spirit”.3 Must re-centralizing Jesus mean displacing the Spirit? No!

We must be cautious before embracing any “gospel” that ignores or undervalues the fullness of Christ’s Spirit.

So then, while I appreciate Scot McKnight’s attempt in “Jesus vs. Paul,” and respect his personal piety and intellectual penetration, I still suggest that reducing all of the rich diversity and fullness of the biblical teaching to a single term (or text), even one as respectable and rich as gospel, especially when exclusively defined as testified to in the totality of Scripture, and even with such an admirable motive as overcoming a harmful polarization, in itself unhelpful. Most assuredly Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians ought not incautiously to embrace a “gospel” bereft of the fullness of Christ’s Spirit.

The good news is remarkably wide and welcoming.

If we exploit the category of gospel in a comprehensive manner, then let’s do so in a comprehensive mode. We should strive for a breadth and depth reflective of the overall witness of Scripture. No solitary text adequately accomplishes that objective. Accordingly, 1 Corinthians 15:1-8 should be considered alongside, say, Acts 15:7, which recalls Acts 10:34-43 and exhibits a much fuller view of gospel as an entry point. Peter’s words are clearly “the message of the gospel” and “the good news/gospel”. F.F. Bruce describes them as “a summary of apostolic preaching” suggestive of “the scope of the kerygma” or core preaching of the earliest Christians.4 They dramatically describe the Holy Spirit-anointed-and-empowered Jesus, and include a detailed account of multiple redemption motifs. They bear witness to Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection and boldly attest his exalted identity as divine Lord. Further, their narrative context stresses the gospel’s universality and inclusiveness as well as its substantive pneumatological significance. Note that this text would certainly assist in re-centralizing Jesus but without displacing the Spirit.

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Category: Biblical Studies, Summer 2011

About the Author: Tony Richie, D.Min, Ph.D., is missionary teacher at SEMISUD (Quito, Ecuador) and adjunct professor at the Pentecostal Theological Seminary (Cleveland, TN). Dr. Richie is an Ordained Bishop in the Church of God, and Senior Pastor at New Harvest in Knoxville, TN. He has served the Society for Pentecostal Studies as Ecumenical Studies Interest Group Leader and is currently Liaison to the Interfaith Relations Commission of the National Council of Churches (USA), and represents Pentecostals with Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation of the World Council of Churches and the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs. He is the author of Speaking by the Spirit: A Pentecostal Model for Interreligious Dialogue (Emeth Press, 2011) and Toward a Pentecostal Theology of Religions: Encountering Cornelius Today (CPT Press, 2013) as well as several journal articles and books chapters on Pentecostal theology and experience.

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