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Robert Menzies: Christ-Centered

Robert P. Menzies, Christ-Centered: The Evangelical Nature of Pentecostal Theology (Eugene, Oregon: Cascade Books, 2020), 166 pages, ISBN 9781725267824.

A few years ago, I was having lunch with a good friend, the editor-in-chief of a flagship evangelical magazine. I knew him well enough to raise a question: “Tell me something: Why do your articles regularly refer to ‘evangelicals and Pentecostals,’ as if they were two separate breeds? You wouldn’t print ‘evangelicals and Baptists’ or ‘evangelicals and Arminians.’ I’m a Pentecostal—and I wholeheartedly uphold the authority of Scripture, the divinity of Jesus Christ, the necessity of personal salvation, the call to spread the gospel … what else do I have to do to be considered a legitimate ‘evangelical’?”

He smiled as he granted that I had half a point. He made no commitment, however, to change his publication’s verbiage.

This notion—that a great gulf of different worldviews separates Evangelicals and Pentecostals—rests on a caricature of both movements.

I wish Robert P. Menzies had been present at the lunch table that day. He could have helped me build an even stronger case for “The Evangelical Nature of Pentecostal Theology” (subtitle of his new book). He could have told about highly respected R. A. Torrey, who like his mentor D. L. Moody, unwaveringly preached that “the baptism with the Holy Spirit is a definite experience which one may know whether he has received or not.” Torrey openly told about his own empowerment.

Granted, he had no time for speaking in tongues, which began blossoming at the Azusa Street Mission just few years before Torrey headed west in 1912 to lead the nearby Bible Institute of Los Angeles (B.I.O.L.A.). The first chapter of Menzies’ book explains why. But Torrey consistently resisted all efforts to submerge Spirit baptism into something purely internal or transactional. Three years after Torrey’s death, when Moody Bible Institute wanted to alter a section of his correspondence course on the baptism with the Holy Spirit, Menzies reports that his daughter Edith was “horrified” and said absolutely not.

In subsequent chapters Menzies draws heavily on the witness of Luke’s writings to establish Pentecostalism’s bona fides as Evangelicals (the author capitalizes the term throughout his book). He affirms that in Luke-Acts, “we find the central and distinctive message of the Pentecostal movement…. For far too long Protestant theology has highlighted Paul’s important insights into the work of the Spirit, but largely ignored Luke’s contribution.” From Jesus’ promise that his Father would “give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him” (Lk. 11:13) to his final instruction to “stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high (Lk. 24:49) … to the abundant fulfillments throughout Acts over at least a 20-year span, Luke’s works are not to be sidelined. (Most Christians don’t realize that Luke actually wrote more of the New Testament—37,932 words in Greek—than did Paul, who gave us just 32,408).

Menzies draws heavily on the witness of Luke’s writings to establish Pentecostalism’s bona fides as Evangelicals.

In this, Menzies aligns with the work of Canadian scholar Roger Stronstad, whose 2010 book The Prophethood of All Believers—a Study in Luke’s Charismatic Theology (CPT Press) is a worthy companion [Editor’s note: Read Amos Yong’s review of the 1999 first issue].

Paul’s counsel in 1 Corinthians 12-14 (and elsewhere), however, is not ignored. Menzies spends a whole chapter on the Pauline perspective, unpacking the value and place of inspired speech in the gathered assembly. His treatments of what it means to “pray in the Spirit” and even “sing in the Spirit” are thorough and clarifying.

It’s hard to find any bone to pick with this book. Perhaps, with hindsight, the author’s chapter on “Signs and Wonders” might not have criticized some translations (particularly the NIV 1984) for their renderings of Luke 17:21 (“the kingdom of God is within you,” as if to imply that the kingdom is solely inside the believer, out of sight). He apparently did not notice the NIV 2011’s update, which says instead, “the kingdom of God is in your midst”—something widely visible in the praxis of the early church.

Pentecostals have a unique contribution to make to the larger Evangelical family; but, if we abandon our Evangelical values, we will lose our way and God will raise up others to make this contribution.

Menzies deftly brushes aside the contention of some scholars and pastors that Acts (though inspired) is little more than ancient history, and not to be taken as a paradigm. Yet his tone is never combative; he is too educated for that (Ph.D., University of Aberdeen), and deeply cross-cultural, thanks to more than a quarter century of ministry in East Asia, where he taught in the Philippines and founded the Asia Center for Pentecostal Theology. If you get the chance to have lunch with this author, take it. You will come away enriched.

Meanwhile (to extrapolate from 1 Corinthians 14:39), let us “forbid not” to include tongues-speaking Pentecostals as legitimate participants in the Evangelical community of faith. The book’s conclusion says it well: “This notion—that a great gulf of different worldviews separates Evangelicals and Pentecostals—rests on a caricature of both movements…. Pentecostals have a unique contribution to make to the larger Evangelical family; but, if we abandon our Evangelical values, we will lose our way and God will raise up others to make this contribution.”

Reviewed by Dean Merrill

 

Publisher’s page: https://wipfandstock.com/9781725267824/christ-centered/

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Category: Biblical Studies, Summer 2021

About the Author: Dean Merrill has been published in over 40 Christian magazines and is the author or co-author of 50 books. His most recent title is 50 Pentecostal and Charismatic Leaders Every Christian Should Know (Chosen, 2021). He has also written Miracle Invasion: Amazing True Stories of the Holy Spirit’s Gifts at Work Today (BroadStreet, 2018), Damage Control: How to Stop Making Jesus Look Bad (Baker, 2006) and seven other solo titles. As a co-author, he is perhaps best known for the award-winning “Fresh Wind” trilogy with Jim Cymbala, pastor of New York City’s Brooklyn Tabernacle, which sold more than a million copies in hardcover (Zondervan). The initial book, Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire, was named Christian Book of the Year in 2000. He also assisted Gracia Burnham, missionary survivor who endured a year of captivity with a Muslim terrorist group in the southern Philippines. That book, entitled In the Presence of My Enemies (Tyndale), made the New York Times bestseller list and won a Gold Medallion award from the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA). Other notable titles have included a second book with Mrs. Burnham, To Fly Again (Tyndale); More than a Hobby, with Hobby Lobby founder and CEO David Green (Nelson); a book with Compassion International president Dr. Wess Stafford on the value of children, Too Small to Ignore (WaterBrook); and Every Man’s Bible (Tyndale), for which Merrill was the general editor. www.DeanMerrill.com

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