Jesus the Spirit Baptizer

Christology in Light of the Pentecost

Reddit icon
e-mail icon
Twitter icon
Facebook icon
Google icon
LinkedIn icon
Frank D. Macchia
  • Grand Rapids, MI: 
    Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
    , September
     2018.
     424 pages.
     $48.00.
     Hardcover.
    ISBN
    9780802873897.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

Frank Macchia is well qualified and positioned to author a 371-page book on a subject central to Pentecostal doctrine. The reader must, however, pay attention to the title, Jesus the Spirit Baptizer: Christology in the Light of Pentecost, as the book is about Jesus the Spirit baptizer and not about Spirit baptism. It is about Jesus, specifically in his role in baptizing individuals in the Holy Spirit. When the book refers to Spirit baptism, it is done so in a much more expansive way than traditional Pentecostalism usually presents it. The author is convinced that Spirit baptism was “the root metaphor in the New Testament for the entire Christian witness to Jesus Christ as Lord” (ix) and “Pentecost is the culminating event of Christ’s identity and mission, because He is about to baptize in the Spirit and fire” (ix). The purpose of this book is “to view all of the events of Christ’s life and mission through the lens of their fulfilment at Pentecost” (6). Macchia does this by dividing the book into three parts, each consisting of two chapters that explore an aspect of Christ’s life and mission.

In considering the task of Christology, Macchia opines that the bestowal of the Spirit at Pentecost is “the culminating point of Christ’s mission on earth and is thus a valuable lens through which to view the chief questions of Christology and to answer them” (2). The specific question of chapter 1 is about how one might proceed and choose an appropriate approach regarding a Christological method. The author proposes a “Christology from below” rather than “above.” A Christology from above focuses on the incarnation which explains how Christ’s divine and human natures have been defined each in abstraction from the other, which led to an overemphasis on their opposition (13).  The author favors a Christology from below with Pentecost as the focus. He states that “Christ broke through the barriers of sin and death in the resurrection in order to make way for the Spirit” (30)  Though Macchia proposes a Christology from below, he does stress that it does not displace a Christology from above (64).

In chapter 2, the author addresses challenges to Christ’s divinity and argues that metaphysics is the chief challenge. Additionally, he states that there are challenges to Christ’s divinity taken from the Bible. He cites several texts which “identify Christ with the true God” and texts that “distinguish Christ from God and in ways that imply a dependence on God” (88). As the chapter draws to a conclusion, the author responds to the pluralist challenge. Macchia states that a Christology from below helps in dealing with a variety of challenges whenever one takes Christ’s essential unity with God seriously (117). In chapter 3, which is the first chapter in part 2, Macchia presents a scriptural case for Christ’s unity with God and humanity. The theme of the chapter is that the Word became flesh to impart the Spirit of life (123). Jesus the Spirit baptizer must be divine to impart the Spirit to all creation.

In chapter 4, the author examines the pivotal significance of Jesus’ reception of the Spirit because his mission is fulfilled in and through the Spirit. Macchia develops this theme and notes that Jesus’ reception of the Spirit sets in motion the renewal of Israel. Israel’s mission to bless all nations through fulfilling the promise given to Abraham reaches a climax through the coming of Christ and his pouring out the Spirit on Pentecost. Israel will bless the nations through Abraham’s seed, who is Christ. Macchia notes similarities between Christ’s mission and Israel’s history with Christ’s baptism in the Jordan as a focal point as it was that river which was historically significant to Israel’s crossing into the Promised Land. At the Jordan River, Jesus will usher in a new Israel which will bring forgiveness and renewal in the Spirit.

Chapter 5 explores how Christ’s death and resurrection culminate in the journey through baptism in the Spirit and fire and provides the basis for Pentecost. Macchia states that Christ descended into the clutches of sin and death, bearing the Spirit of life (248). The cross is how fallen flesh receives the blessing of Abraham and the gift of the Spirit. By contrast, the resurrection “reveals and enacts the victory of Spirit over fire baptism” (300). Included in this chapter is a substantial section on the atonement.

The final chapter is about Pentecost being the place from which the believer looks with hope for Christ’s return. Citing Schillebeeckx, Macchia infers that the bestowal of the Spirit through the Son ties together the ascension with the Parousia, the second coming (331). The author alludes to the “already/not yet” tension reminding the reader that “our baptism in the Spirit has not yet reached its eschatological embodiment and liberty in the Spirit, and in the image of Christ” (343). Macchia notes that Christ’s goal as Spirit baptizer is to join creation to Himself, and that “Pentecost has the parousia as its telos [end], and the parousia has Pentecost as its basis” (345).

Macchia has achieved what he set out to do, namely proceed chronologically from the incarnation to Pentecost, demonstrating each step through what Christ does at Pentecost and offering many valuable insights along the way. Each chapter begins with a quotation and ends with a conclusion summarizing its contents. This summary is most welcome given that each chapter is somewhat lengthy. The book presupposes that Spirit baptism occurs at conversion and is a metaphor for the Christian life in the Spirit and not a subsequent experience to salvation as held by Classical Pentecostalism. He references historical figures such as Arius, Apollinaris, and Augustine. One may have reservations though of the author highlighting the significance of the epiclesis of the Spirit during the Lord’s supper (335). Overall, the book achieves its purpose and is a valued contribution to the study of pneumatology.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Mark Anderson is an Independent Scholar.

Date of Review: 
July 30, 2020
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Frank D. Macchia is Professor of Christian Theology at Vanguard University, Costa Mesa, California, and associate director of the Centre for Pentecostal and Charismatic Studies at Bangor University, Wales (UK). His other books include the Two Horizons Commentary volume on Revelation and Justified in the Spirit: Creation, Redemption, and the Triune God.

Comments

Reading Religion welcomes comments from AAR members, and you may leave a comment below by logging in with your AAR Member ID and password. Please read our policy on commenting.