Every Believer as a Witness in Acts? - in Dialogue with John Michael Penney -- By: Max Turner

Journal: Ashland Theological Journal
Volume: ATJ 30:0 (NA 1998)
Article: Every Believer as a Witness in Acts? - in Dialogue with John Michael Penney
Author: Max Turner

Every Believer as a Witness in Acts? - in Dialogue with John Michael Penney1

Max Turner

Dr. Turner (Ph.D. Cambridge) is Professor of New Testament Studies and Vice Principal for Academic Affairs at London Bible College.

The general thrust of John Penney’s concise and lucid contribution is well captured by the publisher’s ‘blurb’ on the back cover:

This book argues that Spirit-baptism in Luke-Acts is essentially a unique event at Pentecost, signaling the eschatological reconstruction of Israel in Zion for mission to the nations. The Spirit of prophecy is promised universally to everyone who repents; Christians are thus incorporated into faithful Israel and empowered for witness at conversion...

Penny comes from a Pentecostal church (Apostolic Church, Australia), which has traditionally read Acts through the doctrines of ‘separability’ (i.e. the gift of the Spirit is an empowering for mission, distinct/separate from that grace of the Spirit involved in forgiveness of sins and entry into the life of salvation) and ‘subsequence’ (the gift of the Spirit is granted subsequent to ‘salvation’; perhaps weeks, months or more afterwards).

But Penny’s careful analysis has largely been able to avoid the trap of interpreting Acts through his denominational paradigm. In particular, his work offers a sharp criticism of the doctrine of ‘subsequence’. He argues instead that Acts 2.38-39 represents a norm in which the gift of the Spirit is granted at conversion-initiation.2 The notorious Samaritan incident is abnormal (as the otherwise unnecessary parenthesis in v. 16 indicates), the exceptional nature of the suspension of the Spirit from conversion and baptism being bound up with the Samaritan believers being united to the restoring Israel at the hands of the leaders of messianic Israel, the apostles.3 As for the Ephesian ‘disciples’, there was a deficiency in their knowledge that required Paul to tell them that the ‘coming one’ was Jesus (19.4), and on hearing this they were baptized ‘into the name of the Lord Jesus’, and received the Spirit without further sign of delay. So in what sense were they ‘Christians’ at all, when Paul first encountered them? In any case, Paul’s question in 19.2 “implies an expectation by Paul that Christian believers were [normally] endowed with the missionary Spirit at

conversion, and his immediate response to their surprising lack is...

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