• Review of Maynard-Reid’s Complete Evangelism: The Luke-Acts Model

    Title: Complete Evangelism: The Luke-Acts Model Author: Pedrito U. Maynard-Reid Publisher: Scottdale, Pennsylvania: Herald Press, 1997 Release Date: Feb. 1, 1997 Pages: 176 pp., pb. In his discussion of evangelism, Maynard-Reid shifts attention from Matthew to Luke-Acts, arguing that Luke's evangelistic model is more holistic than Matthew's and more attentive to social concerns. The shift illuminates both Luke-Acts and contemporary discussion of evangelism, particularly as it relates to social action. Maynard-Reid includes a historical overview in which he argues that separation between evangelism and social action is a recent innovation, but he devotes the bulk of the book to a reading of Luke-Acts that grounds his call for a "contextual and incarnational" missiology. The book is accessible to a general audience and will appeal to readers with an interest in New Testament interpretation as well as those with an interest in evangelism. - Steve Schroeder   Reviewer: Robert P. Menzies teaches New Testament at Asia Pacific Theological Seminary (Baugio City, Philippines) Book Review: 3,353 words Complete Evangelism: A Review Article In Complete Evangelism: The Luke-Acts Model, Pedrito U….


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  • Review of John C. Nugent, Endangered Gospel: How Fixing the World is Killing the Church

    Title: Endangered Gospel: How Fixing the World is Killing the Church Author: John C. Nugent Genre: Theology Publisher: Cascade Books Release Date: 2016 Pages: 244 Synopsis: For centuries, Christians sought to rescue people from this world. Today, we're trying to fix it. While this shift is helpful in some ways, in other ways it can be quite dangerous. Endangered Gospel flips the script on this conversation by stressing the core gospel truth that rather than ushering in a new world through social activism, God's people already are the new world in Christ. It's not our job to make this world a better place, but to be the better place God has already made in this world. That's good news! If we let go of this truth, we become servants of the world and not God. We also lose the great joy and abundant life that God intended us to have in community. Jesus himself said that the world will know we are Christians by our love for one another--not the fervor of our activism. Social action makes us feel relevant and alive, but it can't be the center of our new life in Christ. Endangered Gospel explores how we might enthusiastically embrace the social dimensions of the gospel without divorcing them from the church or forcing them on the world. Read this book, hear the gospel story afresh, and embrace the good news of God's kingdom! By Robert P. Menzies – This provocative and stimulating book highlights the central role that the church plays in God’s redemptive plan. Nugent brilliantly retells the biblical story, from creation…


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  • Signs and Wonders, Then and Now: Miracle-working, commissioning and discipleship

    Title: Signs and Wonders, Then and Now: Miracle-Working, Commissioning and Discipleship Author: by Keith J. Hacking Publisher: Nottingham: Apollos/IVP Release Date: 2006 Pages: 301 Source: ISBN 9781844741496   Synopsis: ‘Signs and wonders’, such as healing and exorcisms, are characteristic emphases associated with the ‘Third Wave’ of contemporary charismatic renewal, which has been particularly influential in the church, across the denominations and around the world. Exponents of such emphases claim to reflect a model for Christian discipleship that they find presented in the Synoptic Gospels and Acts by Jesus and his followers, in which ‘signs and wonders’ are normative for the church today. Keith Hacking's contention is that Third Wave commentators too often fail to grapple adequately with important historical, literary and theological issues that arise from the biblical text. From an engaging and thorough analysis of the relevant material in the Synoptic Gospels and Acts, he offers an approach that more accurately reflects the evidence and that, therefore, is more appropriate for informing contemporary theology and practice.   Reviewed by Robert P. Menzies, Kunming, China. In 1970 James Dunn published his widely influential critique of Pentecostal theology, Baptism in the Holy Spirit. Now, one of Dunn’s Ph.D. students,…


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  • Review of Darrell Bock’s Commentary on Acts

    Title: Acts Series: Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament Author: Darrell L. Bock Publisher: Baker Academic Release Date: 2007 Pages: 848 by Robert P. Menzies   The eagerly anticipated sequel to Darrell Bock’s comprehensive commentary on Luke’s Gospel is now available. Bock’s commentary on Acts is everything we would expect from a leading evangelical New Testament scholar and Dallas Theological Seminary professor. It is conservative in outlook, yet interacts with a wide range of scholarly views. It is clearly written and thus accessible to a broad spectrum of readers, but it also engages important critical issues. It focuses on clarifying Luke’s intended meaning and features verse by verse commentary, while the summary sections provide theological application. Additionally, valuable bibliographic notes point the reader to other relevant works, including more narrative-oriented commentaries and focused studies. A concise introduction provides helpful summaries of key issues (e.g. genre, date, author, purpose) and major Lukan themes. It is not surprising that Bock, who studied under Howard Marshall’s supervision at the University of Aberdeen, highlights the historical reliability of Luke’s narrative and often defends Luke against the charges of more skeptical scholars. I particularly appreciated the way Bock frequently challenges the anti-supernatural presuppositions that often drive critical scholarship. For example, in his commentary on Acts 5:19, which describes how an angel releases the apostles from prison, Bock writes, “[Hans] Conzelmann’s claim that this event is artificial tells us more about his worldview of God’s activity than about the event or passage” (p. 239). Time and time again Bock points out how the fruit of sound scholarship indicates that Luke is a reliable historian, albeit one with an important message to proclaim. From the speeches in Acts to Luke’s travel narrative, Bock argues that Luke’s narrative is based on a strong historical foundation that has been passed on through early church tradition. Bock is quick to point out the flawed logic or selective reading that often mark the work of Luke’s critics. Thus, in response to a skeptical Ernst Haenchen who argues that Luke presents Paul as a great orator (which allegedly contradicts Paul’s self-portrait in his epistles), Bock replies: “Haenchen’s claim that Acts portrays Paul as a ‘a great orator’ is exaggerated, considering that Paul does not move most of the Athenians, leaves Festus with the impression that he is mad, and puts Eutychus to sleep” (p. 18). A true son of the evangelical movement, Bock tends to focus on the Christological significance of Luke’s narrative. He is certainly unapologetic about the exclusive claims made by Luke and the early church about Jesus. To those who argue that these exclusive claims have led to religious and political strife throughout history, Bock responds, “But a key point is often missed. It is when religion is imposed that it does damage. Here [Acts 4:12] we see apostles making an appeal and leaving the decision and consequences to individual response.” (p. 200). Pentecostals will resonate with Bock’s conclusion that, according to Luke, a “healthy church” is a church that so strongly desires to preach Jesus that it is willing to suffer persecution in order to do so (p. 210). Pentecostals will have less enthusiasm for Bock’s treatment of the Holy Spirit. Bock notes that “some have spoken of the Spirit’s role in Acts as exclusively that of the ‘Spirit of prophecy’,” but he claims, “this narrows the focus of the Spirit’s work too much” (p. 36-37). In standard evangelical fashion, Bock concludes that the work of the Spirit at Pentecost and throughout Acts “involves more than mission; it includes salvation (2:38-39) and transformed lives (2:42-47)” (p. 99). In short, Bock portrays the gift of the Spirit in Acts as the climax of conversion-initiation. Bock seems oblivious to the fundamental tension this position creates for texts like Acts 8:14-17, where Luke describes baptized believers as not having yet received the Spirit, and 19:1-7, where again disciples much like Apollos (18:24-28) are portrayed as not having received the Spirit when they believed. His explanation of the former passage, that “the two stages to the Spirit’s appearance are part of the scene’s unusual context, where church practice is breaking new ground” (p. 330), misses the fact that Luke here only describes one coming of the Spirit, and that to believers! Acts 19:1-7 is explained away with the comment, “We are caught in the special situation of transition here” (p. 599). In both instances, Bock fails to grapple seriously with the theological implications of Luke’s narrative. These comments show how unwilling Bock is, at this point, to lay aside his own pre-conceived theological construct and read Acts on its own terms. This is unfortunate, for Bock generally acknowledges the powerful, missiological nature of Luke’s pneumatology. Nevertheless, ultimately Luke’s picture of the church as a community of prophets, empowered by the Spirit to bear bold witness for Jesus, is blunted by the Pauline presuppositions Bock brings to the text. One other weakness of this fine commentary is the relative dearth of theological application. Bock’s focus and strength is exegesis, but often I longed for more theological discussion and application. A good case in point is Bock’s treatment of “signs and wonders” in Acts. Although he acknowledges the miracles in Luke’s account, very little is said about Luke’s message for his church and ours. This is surprising, particularly in view of Luke’s alteration of Joel’s text in Acts 2:19. With the addition of a few words, Luke transforms Joel’s text to read: “I will show wonders in the heaven above, and signs on the earth below.” The significance of these insertions, which form a collocation “wonders” and “signs”, can hardly be missed. The first verse that follows the Joel citation in Acts declares, “Jesus…was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs” (2:22). And throughout the rest of Acts we read of the followers of Jesus (and not just the apostles!) working “signs and wonders.” In this way, Luke links the miraculous events associated with Jesus (2:22) and his disciples (e.g. 2:43) together with the cosmic portents listed by Joel (2:19-20) as “signs and wonders” that mark the end of the age. For Luke, “these last days” – that period inaugurated with Jesus’ birth and leading up to the Day of the Lord – represents an epoch marked by “signs and wonders.” Luke, then, is not only conscious of the significant role that miracles have played in the growth of the early church, he also anticipates that these “signs and wonders” will continue to characterize the ministry of the church in our day (“these last days”). Bock fails to comment on the implications of Luke’s text at this point for our praxis as Christians today. Nevertheless, in spite of these minor points of criticism, I warmly recommend this commentary as a wise and useful work of sound, evangelical scholarship. Christians in general and Pentecostals in particular will be well-served by this clear, balanced, and edifying commentary.      


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  • Review of Harvey Cox’s How to Read the Bible (New York: HarperCollins, 2015)

    Title: How to Read the Bible Author: Harvey Cox Publisher: HarperCollins Release Date: 2015 Pages: 272   By Robert P. Menzies Harvey Cox’s latest book should have been titled, How to Read the Bible…And Not Hear God Speak. Why? Because according to Cox, the Bible is purely a human document. So, we can take or leave the “truths” of the Bible and we are free to interpret it as we want. Ultimately, we sit in judgment on this record of how humans have responded to the big questions of life. Cox notes that the Bible is fantastically popular — even after his suggested “death of God” in The Secular City — but he offers little reason for this popularity or for reading the Bible ourselves. After all, it is a very human book, filled with contradictions, errors, and anti-heroes. Yes, the Bible has shaped the discourse of generations of past Americans, but then so has baseball. As I read Cox’s take on the Bible, I kept wondering, why not move on to something else, like the New York Times perhaps? I also wondered, if Cox got it so wrong back then (1965, the year that The Secular City was first published), why should Evangelicals in general and Pentecostals in particular listen to him now? Certainly an earlier generation of Pentecostals missed Cox’s memo—“It will do no good to cling to our religious and metaphysical versions of Christianity in the idle hope that one day religion or metaphysics will once again regain their centrality. They will become even more peripheral…” (Cox, The Secular City, p. 3)—and happily continued to proclaim and experience the awesome presence of God in our midst. Nevertheless, in the wake of Cox’s more recent and positive assessment of the Pentecostal movement (Fire from Heaven, 1995), many Pentecostals have become infatuated with him. This is the case in spite of the fact that in this book Cox consistently minimizes the biblical and Christ-centered nature of the movement. It is for these Pentecostals that I write, although my warning might also serve the larger Evangelical body. Lest I be misunderstood, let me emphasize that Cox’s How to Read the Bible is not without its strengths. It is entertaining and peppered with interesting anecdotes drawn from a dazzling array of authors, ancient and modern. Cox is erudite, engaging, and witty. Yet, after a while, the themes and conclusions are simply too predictable. The requisite liberal tropes (the plight of the poor, approval of homosexual lifestyles, pacifism, and ecology) and heroes (Bonhoeffer, Gutierrez, Martin Luther King, Jr., Gandhi, and the Dalai Lama) all appear with some frequency. The interesting scholarly approaches that Cox introduces also come with an edge sharpened by unacknowledged presuppositions. The themes, authors, and approaches are all presented in such a way as to echo the dominant motif: the Bible is an interesting, but deeply flawed and very human book. We are continually reminded that the author’s conclusions are the studied results of “current biblical scholarship.”  The implicit message comes across loud and clear: Let’s not raise a fuss by bringing God into the discussion; or, if you do, please be polite enough to do so quietly and preferably in the corner, alone. Cox’s treatment of Job illustrates his approach. It’s really all about Job (or actually, us), not God. Rather than reveling in the great climax of the book, God’s dramatic self-revelation through a whirlwind (Job 38-41) and Job’s awe-struck response (Job 42:1-6), Cox insists that the ending is a bit of an anti-climax. Not only do we not receive any answers to our questions about the existence of rampant evil, Job apparently is reduced to groveling before the God to whom he had boldly complained. Yet, as Cox explains, Job’s response isn’t as disappointing as it appears. Actually, Job is not “fawning and kowtowing” at the end as many suggest (p. 100). He simply acknowledges his limitations. Additionally, the reader can find comfort in the language of lament and complaint. Yet, can we really so glibly dismiss God’s dramatic revelation of his power in the whirlwind and does this not prepare us for that decisive display of God’s power and love on the cross? When our eyes are focused on the things below, we miss the glimpses of heaven that the Bible affords. Another revealing illustration is found in Cox’s treatment of Luke 3:22. Here, as Jesus is anointed by the Holy Spirit at his baptism, the voice from heaven declares, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22, NIV). Cox, however, suggests that the original text of Luke 3:22 probably read, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you” (p. 146). He then asks provocatively, “Did Luke…suggest that Jesus was God’s adopted son?” (p. 146, italics his). His comments, both before and after the question, suggest that this is indeed quite likely. Yet this suggestion is wildly unlikely. Not only is the manuscript evidence for this reading pathetically weak (Codex Bezae is notoriously idiosyncratic), but this notion blatantly contradicts Luke’s narrative. Remember how surprised the young Jesus was when he learned that his parents had been searching for him in Jerusalem? The twelve year-old Jesus asked, “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49). So, why would Cox throw out such an ill-founded suggestion? It furthers his agenda, which is stated a few lines later, “…a wider variety of theological views than most people know about existed in the nascent Christian movement, and they persisted until the (unsuccessful) attempt of the creed writers to suppress them” (p. 147). These comments from Cox’s reading of Job and Luke are just the tip of the iceberg. Cox’s book is full of conclusions that will raise eyebrows. He suggests that: Genesis offers conflicting responses to the problem of evil; the Exodus never really happened; the story about the fall of Jericho was fabricated from a pagan legend; which books should be included in the Bible is still an open question; questions about Jesus’ identity and the reality of his resurrection are not really historical questions; Paul’s words in Romans 1:26-27 should not be read as condemning homosexual lifestyles today; and the book of Revelation was written by an angry, vindictive man. It’s all so very human. If Cox’s human Bible doesn’t explain its popularity, his suggested method of interpretation also fails to satisfy. A serious logical flaw mars Cox’s presentation. He suggests that since we are all ruled by the presuppositions that flow from our cultural settings, social positions, and past experiences, we must simply acknowledge that our interpretations are hopelessly subjective. No one can read the Bible from the perspective of the original authors. We should all simply acknowledge this fact and revel in the multiple and even contradictory meanings that our readings produce. Historical meaning is out of reach and thus really a fiction. Yet, Cox goes on to spend considerable time trying to “enlighten” the reader about various historical matters, generally perceived flaws or inaccuracies of which he feels the reader should be aware. But again I wondered, why bother with the historical studies? After all, it’s all hopelessly subjective and driven by his liberal agenda, isn’t it? So, I considered the question, why were the historical sketches important for Cox? The answer was quickly apparent: they validated his humanistic reading of the text. His own movement from “naïvely” reading the Bible as a divine narrative to a historical-critical reading and then, ultimately, to a deeper “spiritual” reading actually represents a shift from a reverent reading of the Bible as God’s Word to a humanistic reading of the Bible as merely a collection of human thoughts (some grand, some not so grand). The historical-critical method is the hammer Cox attempts to use to shatter the illusionary worldview of the unenlightened pious. It provides Cox with the “proof” that validates his humanistic reading and presuppositions. Yet here again Cox misses the irony. In spite of his acceptance of the relativism so common in the Western academy, ironically he appears to be supremely confident in his own historical judgments and conclusions. Equally striking is the fact that Cox consistently plucks one string with reference to the scholarly evidence and judgments he relates (that is the liberal one). Indeed, he appears blind to the fact that there are actually other strings that might be plucked. The beautiful, harmonious music that so many have found in the Bible is thus sadly lost to him. Only a reverent approach to the Bible will yield results that are truly life changing. Only an approach that seeks to hear God’s voice will reveal a God worthy of worship, a God who acts redemptively and who speaks with a resounding voice. If we begin our reading of the Bible with the notion that it’s just a human book, either we will be confronted with our pride or we will walk away dissatisfied and angry. The New Testament confronts the reader with the crucial question, Did Jesus rise from the dead? How we answer this question will largely determine how we approach the Bible. Note, however, that a reverent approach is not to be equated with an unthinking or uneducated approach. Of course Cox offers stark contrasts: either you are incredibly gullible and unwilling to ask questions or you stand with him on the side of reasoned enlightenment. What Cox misses is that the past generation of Evangelical scholars (his generation) did not shy away from tackling tough questions (e.g., George Ladd’s The New Testament and Criticism). And now Evangelical scholars stand at the forefront of biblical scholarship. It is worth noting that these scholars also take seriously historical meaning, which appears to be the only antidote to the extreme subjectivism advocated by Cox. Although none of us approach the Bible free of presuppositions, the biblical authors’ inspired message, when anchored to its original intent, can help correct and reshape them. This is one of many reasons why I find Robert Stein’s book, A Basic Guide to Interpreting the Bible: Playing by the Rules (2011), much more helpful. No, it is not the lack of thought that Cox dismisses; it is rather the rejection of his own liberal presuppositions. It is a reverent approach to the Bible, an approach that dares to believe that God acts and speaks clearly, authoritatively, and redemptively in the Bible, that Cox rejects. Liberals worry a lot about the internal contradictions and diversity in the Bible. They fret over the miracles, the triumphalism, the simplicity, and the perceived arrogance of the apostolic church.  Yet, as I am suggesting is the case with Cox, they often fail to recognize their own arrogance and their own blindness. Pentecostals, on the other hand, haven’t lost a lot of sleep over miracles. We have seen too many in our midst to see in the biblical record anything but a model for our lives and ministry. We haven’t worried much about internal contradictions in the Bible, for we dance to the beautiful harmony of the Spirit’s voice. We Pentecostals approach the Bible with a sense of reverence and accept the apostolic church as our model. The result (let’s engage in a bit of what Cox terms “effect history” here) has been a clear message, transformed lives, and a host of dynamic churches on virtually every continent of the planet. What has the liberal approach espoused by Cox produced? I will concede a few ethical platitudes and some predictable political slogans, but not much more. Ultimately, Cox’s approach to reading the Bible does not provide a coherent, redemptive message. He constantly highlights apparent contradictions and tensions, so there really is no unified message to be found. Rather, we are told that the Bible contains a collection of contradictory and often confusing responses to the great questions of life. No, there’s not much to preach here. But then that’s the point Cox wants to make. We need to free ourselves from the bold notion that God actually speaks, that He has a clear message applicable for all people of all cultures. Cox’s God is strangely silent or, at the very least, greatly conflicted. But here we come to the “deeper spiritual” part. By rejecting the notion that God authoritatively speaks in the Bible, we open ourselves up to a plurality of contradictory messages, cultural values, and religions. Right might actually be wrong and wrong might actually be right. We need to be careful not to be overly confident in our judgments…unless, of course, your name is Harvey Cox. This doesn’t sound like good news to me.    


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  • BOOK NOTICE: Speaking in Tongues: Jesus and the Apostolic Church as Models for the Church Today (Robert P. Menzies)

    Title: Speaking in Tongues: Jesus and the Apostolic Church as Models for the Church Today Author: Robert P. Menzies Genre: Theology Publisher: CPT Press Release Date: (March 10, 2016) Format: Paperback Pages: 198 "In 2013 Robert Menzies published the award-winning book, Pentecost: This Story is Our Story. Now, in his latest book, Speaking in Tongues, he focuses his theological spotlight on the biblical experience of “speaking in other tongues as the Spirit gives utterance.” Menzies’ thesis is that Jesus and the apostolic Church are models for the contemporary Church. This book is an engaging exposition of a thorny, if not actually contentious issue. It speaks to different readers in different ways. For example, it challenges those who oppose the doctrine and/or experience; it functions as a guide for those who may be confused or bewildered about the experience; and finally, it gives an apologetic foundation for those who are defending both the biblical doctrine and the contemporary experience. Menzies’ latest book, Speaking in Tongues, serves the Church well, and is, indeed, a must read." —Roger Stronstad Scholar in Residence Summit Pacific College Abbotsford, BC, Canada   Other Endorsements: “As always, Robert Menzies, one of Pentecostalism’s leading scholars, provides careful exegesis, weighing various alternatives and coming to reasoned conclusions, offering fresh insights for all interpreters to consider. His passionate, pastoral…


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  • BOOK NOTICE: The Language of the Spirit: Interpreting and Translating Charismatic Terms (Robert P. Menzies)

    Title: The Language of the Spirit: Interpreting and Translating Charismatic Terms Author: Robert P. Menzies Genre: Theology Publisher: CPT Press Release Date: October 15, 2010 Format: Paperback Pages: 136 The latest work by noted New Testament scholar Robert P. Menzies, The Language of the Spirit: Interpreting and Translating Charismatic Terms, treats in successive chapters six key issues that impact the translation of New Testament terms related to the Holy Spirit or charismatic themes. Special attention is given to how specific terms should be translated in the English and Chinese New Testaments. These translation issues serve as a catalyst for further analysis of and reflection upon a variety of texts. Significant light is shed on a number of important topics: the nature of prophecy and spiritual guidance in the early church, the role of the Paraclete in John's gospel, Luke's understanding of the Kingdom of God and salvation history. Menzies demonstrates that reading the biblical text through the lens of a different language and culture can be an enriching and illuminating experience. These essays reflect the careful study and keen theological insight for which Dr Menzies is known. The chapters are 1. Prophecy or Preaching?; 2. The Spirit of God or the Spirit of Man?; 3. How Shall We Translate parakletos?; 4. Is the Kingdom of God within You?; 5. Did Jesus Send Seventy or Seventy-two?; and 6. Tongues or Languages? Author’s Note: Mark B. (Ph.D., Ed.D.), who teaches with Global University, recently wrote: “I finally got my hands on The Language of the Spirit and I am impressed with how valuable this…


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  • Spirit and Kingdom in the Writings of Luke and Paul: An Attempt to Reconcile these Concepts (Youngmo Cho)

    Title: Spirit and Kingdom in the Writings of Luke and Paul: An attempt to Reconcile these Concepts Series: Paternoster Biblical Monographs Author: Youngmo Cho Genre: Theology Publisher: Wipf & Stock Pub; Reprint edition (January 1, 2007) Pages: 254 (Paperback)   Reviewed by Robert P. Menzies This important book was penned by a Korean Assemblies of God minister, a fine scholar who studied at the Asia Pacific Theological Seminary prior to his doctoral studies at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland. In this revised version of his Ph.D. thesis, Dr. Cho argues in convincing fashion that Paul refers to the work of the Spirit in order to communicate the significance of Jesus’ teaching about the Kingdom of God to his largely gentile and Hellenistic audience. This book is significant for several reasons. First, the book offers an important glimpse into the nature of the relationship between the teaching of Jesus and the proclamation of Paul, an issue that NT scholars have wrestled with for years. In so doing, Dr. Cho highlights a significant thread of continuity that binds together the message of the New Testament. Secondly, Pentecostals will resonate with the fresh insights into the early church’s understanding of the work of the Spirit provided by Dr. Cho. Dr. Cho’s thesis challenges non-Pentecostal readings of the NT which tend to force Luke into a rigid Pauline mold. Dr. Cho calls us to recognize the true diversity and power of the biblical witness regarding the Spirit’s work. Finally, Dr. Cho represents a growing and significant group of emerging Asian biblical scholars. In view of trends in this region, it is no surprise that a significant number of these scholars, like Dr. Cho, are Pentecostal in their theology and praxis. I am convinced that the next decade will witness a burst of creative theological contributions from this region. These contributions will serve to strengthen the church around the world.  


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  • Redeemed by Fire: The Rise of Popular Christianity in Modern China (Xi Lian)

    Title: Redeemed by Fire: The Rise of Popular Christianity in Modern China Author: Xi Lian Genre: Theology Publisher: Yale University Press (February 23, 2010) Pages: 352 pages (Hardcover)   Reviewed by Robert P. Menzies   Lian Xi has produced a remarkably detailed, skillfully written, and meticulously researched history of important indigenous Christian movements and leaders in modern China. Focusing on the period from the early 1900s to the present, Xi covers the True Jesus Church, the Jesus Family, the Shandong revivals and leaders such as John Sung, Wang Mingdao, and Watchman Nee, to name a few. He also offers detailed analysis of more recent house church movements and a number of the contemporary cults. In spite of the obvious strengths of this book and the intellectual gifts of its author, this study is marred by a number of weaknesses. These weaknesses are all related to the author’s presuppositions. Xi often writes in condescending tones when he describes the millenarian or apocalyptic views of his subjects. He appears to judge these “popular” movements, rooted as they are in apocalyptic visions of the future, in Marxist-like terms as serving as an “opiate” that dulls the pain of the harsh realities faced by the poor and oppressed. The eschatological views of these groups – almost all of them look to the future for a radical transformation of the present order – are often ridiculed or dismissed as utopian and naive in Xi’s narrative. Additionally, he links these views with Pentecostal ecstasies (healing, exorcism, visions, and speaking in tongues), and paints these groups as rooted in syncretistic practices driven by their context of poverty and oppression. However, Xi’s analysis misses a number of important elements. First, Xi fails to recognize or acknowledge that these eschatological views and Pentecostal practices are all found in the early church and the Bible, especially the book of Acts. In other words, these groups are generally orthodox and Evangelical in character (Xi doesn’t make a strong distinction between orthodox, Evangelical groups and those that are cultic) and reflect views and practices shared by millions (some would say the majority) of Christians around the world. The biblical background for these beliefs and practices is rarely noted and never highlighted; rather, there is constant reference to similar practices or concepts in Chinese religions. Yet, it is quite evident that the Bible has profoundly impacted these groups and that the loose parallels in other religions merely indicate that these practices address felt needs, like in so many other countries and cultures around the world.[1] Xi also appears to dismiss apocalyptic and millenarian eschatological views as escapist and, at best, irrelevant. Here he fails to acknowledge that these views have been a part of the Christian faith from the earliest of days (most would trace them back to Jesus), are firmly rooted in the Bible, and have left an extremely positive legacy. Although it might appear counter-intuitive, people with a strong faith in the second coming of Jesus have been empowered and active in alleviating and transforming lives and societies in the present world. A strong and clear vision of the future enables Christians to live moral and heroic lives of service in this present age.[2] The escapist narrative so often touted by sociologists and not a few theologians simply is not accurate and needs to be challenged. The same might be said for Xi’s dismissal of “Pentecostal ecstasies” (to use his term). His reductionistic perspective also blinds him to the incredibly positive legacy left by a century of Pentecostal pioneers. According to Xi, Pentecostal manifestations such as healings, exorcisms, visions, and tongues, like the apocalyptic views noted above, are symptoms generated by a life of deprivation and impoverishment. But this judgment, which was often championed by a previous generation of sociologists, is now tired and outdated. It has been proven to be based on faulty premises (these experiences are the result of poverty and oppression) and simply does not accurately reflect the current data available.[3] More importantly, it misses the incredible impact that the Pentecostal faith is having on the faithful around the world. As sociologist David Martin notes, Pentecostals are having a tremendous impact among the poor of Latin American precisely because of the clarity of their message, rooted in the Bible. With reference to the challenges facing poor families in Brazil, which are often ravaged by the pull of “a culture of machismo, drink, sexual conquest, and carnival,” Martin writes: “It is a contest between the home and the street, and what restores the home is the discontinuity and inner transformation offered by a demanding, disciplined faith with firm boundaries.”[4] All of this blunts Xi’s ability to see these Christian groups as having much to contribute to China’s future. Here again we encounter another questionable assumption: if these groups do not directly impact those with political power, they are irrelevant and have little to offer. While it is probably accurate to say that the vast majority of China’s Christians will not coalesce into a unified, powerful political block, their potential for impacting China’s future should not be underestimated. Indeed, their message of the worth of each individual, a firm moral compass, purpose beyond selfish interests, and hope for the future has the potential to dramatically impact a nation in search of meaning. Footnotes: [1] For example, without any reference to the biblical pedigree of Pentecostal belief and practice (see especially the book of Acts) and the fact that these beliefs and practices are also featured by hundreds of millions of Christians around the world, Xi writes: “Instead of bringing back to life withered Western faith, the Chinese were fashioning a Christian faith that increasingly revealed continuities with indigenous folk religion, which also made a startling comeback during the same period, attracting some two hundred million worshippers at the turn of the twenty-first century” (Redeemed by Fire, 230).   [2] David Martin aptly notes, “Pentecostals belong to groups which liberals cast in the role of victim, and in every way they refuse to play that role” (Pentecostalism: The World Their Parish [Oxford: Blackwell, 2002], 10). Although it often goes unrecognized, Pentecostals around the globe are having a dramatic social impact. But they are doing so precisely because they are focused on a clear biblical message of repentance, forgiveness, transformation, and hope. [3] For example, Max Turner writes, “Contrary to earlier claims, there is no evidence that ‘tongues speech’ is correlated with low intellect, education, social position or pathological psychology” (The Holy Spirit and Spiritual Gifts: Then and Now [Carlisle: Paternoster, 1996], 305). See also the numerous studies he cites. [4] Martin, The World Their Parish, 105-6.


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  • The Spirit and Suffering in Luke-Acts: Implications for a Pentecostal Pneumatology (Martin W. Mittelstadt)

    Title: The Spirit and Suffering in Luke-Acts: Implications for a Pentecostal Pneumatology Series: Journal of Pentecostal Theology Supplement (Book 26) Author: Martin W. Mittelstadt Genre: Theology Publisher: Bloomsbury Academic; 1 edition (October 12, 2004) Pages: 232   Reviewed by Robert P. Menzies Kunming, China Pentecostals the world over celebrate the presentness of the Kingdom of God. God’s awesome presence in our midst, his gracious willingness to bestow spiritual gifts, his desire to heal, liberate, and transform lives – all of these themes, so central to Pentecostal piety, highlight the fact that God’s reign is now present. Pentecostals proclaim a God who is near, a God’s whose power can and should be experienced here and now. This element of Pentecostal praxis has, for the most part, served as a much-needed corrective to traditional church life, which has far too often lost sight of the manifest presence of God. As traditional churches in the West have increasingly lost touch with the supernatural elements of the Christian faith, Pentecostals have reveled in their worship of an immanent God, a God who is truly with us. Although many in an increasingly secular West struggle to understand this kind of faith, Pentecostal churches around the world are growing with such rapidity that one scholar recently suggested the Pentecostal movement should be identified as “the most successful social movement of the past century.”[1] Yet, in the midst of this growth and exuberance, Pentecostals face a very present danger. The emphases that have enabled Pentecostals to make a unique contribution, also render us susceptible to an unbalanced triumphalism. Our vision can (and often has) become so fixated on God’s power and triumph that we lose the ability to see his hand in the midst of suffering, rejection, and opposition. Our emphasis on the present-ness of the Kingdom is easily twisted into an arrogant and unbiblical over-realized eschatology, where there is little room for weakness. Luther named it well: a ‘theology of glory’ that had little room for a ‘theology of the cross’.[2] In view of the obvious strengths and vulnerabilities of the Pentecostal movement, Martin Mittelstadt’s recently published book must be seen as significant. The book’s title, The Spirit and Suffering in Luke-Acts, points to the significant thesis that it develops. Mittelstadt argues in a compelling way that a thorough reading of Luke-Acts reveals that Spirit-inspired ministry consistently encounters rejection as well as acceptance, and that the suffering and opposition that result from this rejection are part of God’s divine plan. Ultimately, they serve to advance the gospel. Mittelstadt argues that the narrative of Luke-Acts is not a story of triumph upon triumph, but rather an account of “acceptance and rejection, triumph and tragedy.”[3] There is throughout the story a persistent connection between Spirit-inspired mission and persecution. The link between suffering and Spirit-led ministry is an important part of Luke’s narrative and closely linked to one of his chief aims: he wants to encourage Christians facing persecution and opposition to persevere and, in the face of hardship, to boldly bear witness for Christ. Mittelstadt employs the method of literary analysis in order to develop his thesis, arguing that the theme of opposition to Spirit-inspired ministry is prosecuted throughout Luke’s two-volume work in an intentional and consistent manner. Mittelstadt focuses on six texts crucial to his thesis, three of which center on Jesus and his ministry and three of which feature Jesus’ followers. Texts which highlight the relationship between the leading of the Spirit and rejection in the ministry of Jesus include Simeon’s Spirit-inspired pronouncement (Lk 2:25-35); Jesus’ programmatic sermon at Nazareth (Lk 4:16-30); and Jesus’ instruction to his disciples (Lk 12:1-12). Passages that develop this same theme in the experience of the early church include Peter’s encounter with opposition (Acts 3-4), Stephen’s martyrdom (Acts 6-7), and Paul’s farewell speech to the Ephesian elders (Acts 20:18-35). Mittelstadt’s analysis is filled with interesting insights, both in terms of the exegesis of individual passages and uncovering literary connections in the larger narrative. He points out the significance in Luke’s scheme of an often overlooked passage, Simeon’s prophetic words in Luke 2:34, “This child is destined to cause the rising and falling of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against.” Mittelstadt correctly notes that this prophecy finds fulfillment in the preaching of John the Baptist and in the increasingly intense opposition which the Jewish leadership direct toward Jesus. Indeed, it sets the pattern for the entire narrative that follows.[4] I was personally challenged by Mittelstadt’s interpretation of Jesus’ words concerning blasphemy against the Spirit (Lk 12:10). He argues that in this passage “blasphemy against the Spirit” should be understood as the “persistent rejection of the gospel witness” by nonbelievers.[5] Elsewhere I have argued that “blasphemy against the Spirit” refers to Christians who resist the leading of the Spirit and, in the face of persecution, renounce Christ (i.e., Christian apostasy). It seems to me that the immediate context, with its warnings against denying Christ (Lk 12:9), with its distinction between “a word against the Son of Man” and “blasphemy against the Spirit” (the former committed by non-Christians, the latter by Christians), and with its promise of pneumatic aid in the face of persecution (Lk 12: 11-12), all point in this direction.[6] Yet Mittelstadt makes a strong argument for his interpretation by pointing to the larger context of Luke-Acts. He correctly notes that, while Luke offers no examples of disciples blaspheming against the Holy Spirit, “it is a major motif of his work that opponents do so.”[7] Finally, I found Mittelstadt’s discussion of Paul’s farewell speech to the Ephesians elders (Acts 20: 17-38) to be full of insight and marked by a devotional quality.[8] He correctly highlights the fact that Acts 20:22 refers to the work of the Holy Spirit and not Paul’s personal conviction (or his spirit). Thus, the text should be translated “compelled by the Spirit” (NIV), not as a reference to Paul’s personal conviction as do some translations (e.g., the Chinese Union Version). Mittelstadt’s literary analysis, in a very helpful way, gets the reader into the text and serves as a useful aid for preaching. This characteristic marks much of his work and gives the book a pastoral tone. One of the great strengths of the book is Mittelstadt’s method. He exemplifies how literary analysis can produce fresh and constructive contributions to our understanding of the text. This is no small feat and one filled with promise for Pentecostals, whose distinctive themes are often rooted in the narrative of Luke-Acts. One weakness of the book is also linked to Mittelstadt’s method. On numerous occasions his analysis might have been strengthened by a judicial use of redaction criticism. A simple comparison of Luke’s gospel with the rest of the synoptic tradition could have shed light on the uniqueness of the ‘rejection’ material in Luke’s gospel and thus on Luke’s purpose. Dr. Mittelstadt originally produced this work as a Ph.D. thesis at Marquette University. The rules of the academy can, at times, be rather inflexible. In the current climate, hostility towards the historical-critical method often makes it difficult to employ and benefit from methods such as redaction criticism that are rooted in understanding the past. Mittelstadt might also be chided for exaggerating the neglect of the ‘suffering’ theme in recent Pentecostal scholarship. For example, he fails to note my emphasis on ‘staying power’ in Spirit and Power: Although “signs and wonders” have been a prominent part of the Pentecostal message, the focal point of Pentecostal missions has always been the “staying power” made available through the baptism of the Holy Spirit. This Lukan focus on inspired witness in the face of opposition was undoubtedly shaped by the context of suffering and persecution in which the early church flourished.[9] Nevertheless, Mittelstadt highlights an important dimension of Lukan pneumatology that certainly deserves more consideration than it has received in the past. He does so in a thoughtful, passionate, and pastoral way. His work will challenge many, especially those in the West, to re-read Luke’s narrative with fresh eyes. Indeed, it may help bridge the gap that often separates Christians in a stable and affluent West from our brothers and sisters in the Two-Thirds World. One Chinese house church leader recently put it this way, “When Chinese believers read the book of Acts, we see in it our own experience; when foreign Christians read the book of Acts, they see in it inspiring stories.” His point was clear: our experience of opposition and persecution, or our lack of it, impacts how we read Luke’s narrative.[10] Perhaps Dr. Mittelstadt’s book will enable us to read Luke-Acts a bit more like our Chinese brothers and sisters.   Footnotes: [1] Philip Jenkins, The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), p. 8. [2] See Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen, “Theology of the Cross: A Stumbling Block to Pentecostal/Charismatic Spirituality?” in Wonsuk Ma and Robert Menzies, eds., The Spirit and Spirituality: Essays in Honour of Russell P. Spittler (JPTSS 24; London: T&T Clark International, 2004), pp. 150-63. [3] Martin W. Mittelstadt, The Spirit and Suffering in Luke-Acts: Implications for a Pentecostal Pneumatology (JPTSS 26; London: T&T Clark International, 2004), p. viii. [4] The Spirit and Suffering, pp. 35-45. [5] The Spirit and Suffering, p. 79 (quote); see pp. 75-80 for his discussion of this passage. [6] Robert P. Menzies, Empowered for Witness: The Spirit in Luke-Acts (JPTSS 3; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1994), p. 193. [7] The Spirit and Suffering, p. 79. [8] The Spirit and Suffering, pp. 119-26. [9] William W. Menzies and Robert P. Menzies, Spirit and Power: Foundations of Pentecostal Experience (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), p. 153. [10] Luke Wesley argues this thesis with reference to the Chinese church in his book, The Church in China: Persecuted, Pentecostal, and Powerful (AJPS 2; Baguio: AJPS Books, 2004).


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