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Frank Macchia: Jesus the Spirit Baptizer

Frank D. Macchia, Jesus the Spirit Baptizer: Christology in the Light of Pentecost (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2018), 383 pages, ISBN 9780802873897.

Pentecostals are well acquainted with the baptism in the Holy Spirit and the argument that it is Jesus who baptizes the church at Pentecost. But if Jesus is the Spirit baptizer, what does this act mean for our understanding of Jesus himself, for Jesus’ own history, and for the way he imparts the Spirit at Pentecost? These are the main questions Frank Macchia pursues in his book, Jesus the Spirit Baptizer. Macchia has been relentless in his focus on Spirit baptism as an organizing principle or the “crown jewel” of Pentecostal theology, as he calls it in his earlier work. For much of his career, he has provided a pathway to envision and revise what is arguably at the center of Pentecostal history by pointing to the wider ecumenical and theological implications of Pentecostal thought for the Christian world. This volume continues on the same path with a refreshing and inspiring analysis of the person and work of Christ by arguing that it is Pentecost, not Easter, that is the climax of the Incarnation.

The argument unfolds in three parts, each comprised of two chapters. Part 1 explains the task of Christology in the terms of traditional Christological method (chapter 1) and the challenges to Christology in the light of Pentecost (chapter 2). Part 2 focuses on Christ’s Incarnation (chapter 3) and his baptism and anointing (chapter 4). The final part addresses the death and resurrection (chapter 5) and Christ’s act of baptizing with the Spirit (chapter 6). With these significant discussions, Macchia hopes to address the chief questions of Christology: Who is Jesus in relation to God? Is Jesus truly divine? Who is Christ in relation to humanity? Is he truly human? And how do we understand his work and its ongoing significance?

What does it mean for the church if “Pentecost is the culminating event of Christ’s identity and mission?”

The subtitle of the book is indicative of a “reversed” Christological method; its direction moves not from Christ to Pentecost but from Pentecost to Christ. This move is indicative of Pentecostal theology, and Macchia embraces its promise by arguing that “Pentecost is the culminating event of Christ’s identity and mission” (ix) but detailing his argument by showing that Christ’s identity and mission always contained Pentecost as their culmination. This task is more difficult than it appears since the primary focus is not on Jesus in the acts of the apostles as they are baptized in the Spirit but on Jesus’ identity before the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost. That Macchia dedicates more than a hundred pages on the task of Christology is indicative of the challenges this perspective poses, and the book can be read principally as the endeavor to focus “on Pentecost as the place where Christ shifts from being the bearer to the imparter of the Spirit” (29) through a Christology from below that views Pentecost as the greatest point of clarity for understanding the life of Christ.

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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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