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William Atkinson’s Baptism in the Spirit, reviewed by John Poirier

From Pneuma Review Fall 2012

Baptism in the SpiritWilliam P. Atkinson, Baptism in the Spirit: Luke-Acts and the Dunn Debate (Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2011), 164 pages, ISBN 9781608999712.

The publication of James Dunn’s Baptism in the Holy Spirit in 1970 touched a nerve among the then fledgling group of Pentecostal scholars, and has continued to find strong resistance from Pentecostals. Not surprisingly, there has been no shortage of responses. Atkinson’s book chronicles the exchange between Dunn and his Pentecostal detractors.

The essential point of contention in the debate is whether the outpouring of the Spirit in Acts 2 was essentially soteriological or missiological—that is, was the purpose of the giving of the Spirit bound up with an implied promise of salvation for all who repent, or was it bound up with Jesus’ promise in Acts 1 that the disciples will “receive power” and “be witnesses”. The debate over the proper interpretation of Acts 2 is unquestionably important. Atkinson’s review of this debate provides a sort of clearing in which it might resume. The book also helps readers not directly involved in the debate to gain a better understanding of the problems others have encountered in reading Acts 2 within the context of practical theology.

Although Atkinson agrees more with Dunn’s detractors than with Dunn, he points to weaknesses in the arguments made on both sides. Thus the reader will come away with more than an overview of an academic skirmish. Although some readers will undoubtedly think that the “Dunn debate” has grown tired—as Dunn himself agrees—this book fulfills a valuable function, both as a reminder of a debate, and as a foundation on which further reading of Acts 2 can build.

Reviewed by John C. Poirier

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Category: Fall 2012, Spirit

About the Author: John C. Poirier, Th.M. (Duke Divinity), D.H.L. (Jewish Theological Seminary), is an independent scholar who has published numerous articles on a wide range of topics. He is the author of The Invention of the Inspired Text: Philological Windows on the Theopneustia of Scripture (2021).

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