Luke’s Charismatic Theology, Pt. 5

Image baptism of Cornelius

Peter baptizing Cornelius, Johannes Zick, 1746
How has the artist drawn on 18th century social categories to structure this presentation of the scene? Can we tell?

Notes on chapters 5 & 6 of The Charismatic Theology of St. Luke, by Roger Stronstad:

Chapter 5, “The Holy Spirit in the Acts of the Apostles – The Charismatic Community in Mission”

Stronstad analyzes the book of Acts as the record of the charismatic community in mission, as the record of the “geographic and racial advance of the gospel” is entwined with the gift of the Holy Spirit.1 He looks in detail at three episodes of baptism in the Holy Spirit, one in Samaria, one in Caesarea, and one in Ephesus.

A key feature of the Samaritan situation (Acts 8:14-19) is that the Samaritans “believe” before they receive a baptism of the Holy Spirit. The chronological separation has been interpreted in various ways by other authors to preserve a relationship between reception of the Holy Spirit and salvation. Stronstad reads the account as showing that these believers – faith being a precondition – were confirmed and equipped for ministry.

Considering the Caesarea, or household of Cornelius, narrative (Acts 10:1 – 11:18) Stronstad points out how carefully Luke establishes that the members of the household were pious, and open to a different reality. The point is that “Cornelius … was a Christian before the Holy Spirit was poured out on him.”2 Afterwards, the newly-baptized household speaks in tongues, the tangible sign that the baptism of the Holy Spirit has taken place. Importantly, it is “enough” that Cornelius and his household be a God-fearing, righteous community to receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit, to be empowered for ministry – they do not have to conform to other ritual standards. Stronstad explicitly does not read the account of the reception of the Holy Spirit as concerning or signifying salvation, but rather prior saved status.

In the Ephesian narrative (Acts 19:1-7) the account is indirect; still, it indicates that the Holy Spirit is received by Christians (already gathered into the church), through the laying on of hands.

Stronstad summarizes his results thus: 1) the gift of the Spirit fulfills a promise that is reported earlier in Luke-Acts, by John the Baptist; 2) he sees continuity in the extension of the Spirit to Jesus’ disciples, and to the new disciples of the church, but discontinuity in the absence of a “fire” of “eschatological judgment”; 3) by the parallel structure of Luke and Acts, the acts of baptism by the Spirit in Acts commission the recipients for ministry, including the Gentiles, and are not signifiers of salvation (which Stronstad sees as already in place, by the author’s explicit testimony); 4) the reception of the Spirit is accompanied by external signs; 5) the pattern outlined in Acts is treated as paradigmatic by the church described in Acts.

The means by which the Spirit is transferred seem mostly unimportant. Language that parallels Luke’s preferred language about the Spirit, notably being “filled with the Spirit,” seems to mean the same thing. The activity of the Holy Spirit precedes, and initiates, every significant act of mission recorded in the book of Acts.

Chapter 6, “The Charismatic Theology of Luke – Synthesis and Challenge”

Stronstad outlines his main points and conclusions. One major point is the way Luke’s treatment of the Holy Spirit reflects the content of the Old Testament (Septuagint). The Holy Spirit fulfills prophecy; it is accompanied by similar outward signs; the language used to describe the phenomenon is Septuagintal language; the Spirit is transferred from one ordained bearer to another/others, a pattern established already in Exodus. In other ways, the pattern in Luke-Acts differs from Hebrew Scripture. The receipt of the Holy Spirit includes entire communities, not just chosen leaders; and it is associated with charismatic empowerment for mission, in particular with the gift of prophecy, which includes as specific acts things like visions, miracles, judgment, and inspired worship; the indwelling of the Spirit is distinctly experiential.
The theology of the Spirit presented in Luke-Acts is a challenge to existing theological treatments of the Spirit. For Stronstad, Reformed theology sees the Spirit as associated with conversion & initiation; Wesleyan theology sees the Spirit as associated with sanctification. Luke-Acts presents the Spirit as charismatic and associated most closely with worship and service.


1 Roger Stronstad, The Charismatic Theology of St. Luke (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2012), 71.
2 Ibid., 76.

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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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