Stronstad on Luke’s Charismatic Theology

Image - Hildegard of Bingen

Artist’s/Visionary’s depiction of what it looks like to be filled with the Holy Spirit
[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

As part of this month’s study of Acts, I’m reading The Charismatic Theology of St. Luke:Trajectories in the Old Testament to Luke-Acts (2nd Edition), by Roger Stronstad. In the first chapter, he makes the methodological claim that

In order to correctly interpret Luke’s record of the Holy Spirit we must resolve three fundamental methodological problems: (1) the literary and theological homogeneity of Luke-Acts, (2) the theological character of Lukan historiography, and (3) the theological independence of Luke.1

I didn’t see the significance of this statement until the end of the chapter. That might be because the first two clauses, Luke-Acts homogeneity and the theological character of Luke’s writing, are pretty commonplace these days – at least, it’s what I was taught in seminary, so reading that statement was pretty “so what?” But …

It’s what Stronstad means by the “theological independence of Luke” that starts to get interesting. He points out that, at least at the time of his writing – originally, 1975 – Luke’s theological independence had been overshadowed by traditions of interpretation that assumed Luke’s theology depended Paul’s. So what showed up in Paul’s letters was used as the key to interpret Luke’s meaning. This resulted especially in ignoring Luke’s theology of the Holy Spirit. Textual evidence and usage in Luke was interpreted in light of Pauline evidence and usage, even though the relevant language appears much more frequently in Luke-Acts than it does in the Pauline texts. (!) So Stronstad’s point turns out to be that, between Luke’s theologically interpreted presentation of history, and his theological independence, there is a basis for treating “Luke as a historian-theologian of the Holy Spirit and to allow him to make a significant, unique, and independent contribution to the doctrine of the Holy Spirit.”2

By doing this, Stronstad lays a foundation for making more substantive claims about Luke-Acts, namely that

Luke’s characteristic phrase ‘filled with the Holy Spirit’ (1) is modeled after its use in the Old Testament (the Septuagint), (2) has the same meaning in the Gospel as it has in the Acts, and (3) has a different meaning in Luke-Acts than it has in Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians.3

In particular, Stronstad reads Luke as presenting the work of the Holy Spirit as related  neither to salvation nor to sanctification but to service, as empowerment for service and mission in the world.


1 Roger Stronstad, The Charismatic Theology of St. Luke: Trajectories in the Old Testament to Luke-Acts. 2nd Edition. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2012. 3.

2 Ibid., 13.

3 Ibid., 14.

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About HAT

Heather Thiessen (HAT) is a happily married 60-ish, Bible-reading, Presbyterian Church Sunday School teaching and choir singing, small fuel efficient car driving, still pretty much 2nd wave feminist and generally out lesbian Hoosier mom. (There are no monochrome states.) From time to time she teaches religious studies to students at a small liberal arts college in Louisville, Kentucky.
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